International Studies Abroad ®est. 1987


Culture Corner

Spain Culture

Spanish Language
The official language of Spain is Castilian (Castellano); however, it is important to keep in mind that Castilian is not the only language spoken in Spain. There are a number of different languages and dialects that are spoken throughout the various regions of Spain, four of which are co-official languages (Catalan, Basque, Galician, and Valencian).

Catalan, a romance language, is primarily spoken within the region of Catalonia where it is the co-official language and is the official language of Andorra. Basque is the co-official language of the Basque Country in the north-eastern region of Spain. There have been a number of different hypotheses about the origins of the language, but it still has no proven connection to any other language. Galician is the co-official language of Galicia which is in the north-western region of Spain. It has been suggested that Galician and Portuguese have similar roots, the reason being that Portuguese originated in Galicia and northern Portugal. Valencian is the co-official language of the autonomous region of Valencia which is located on the east of Spain along the coast. Valencian is a dialect of Catalan but is perceived as a completely different language by many Valencianos.

Spain is a very culturally proud nation and there is a very strong connection between language and cultural identity in all these regions in Spain. Although these different languages are quite prominent within their respective regions, all Spaniards speak the national Castilian language, and foreign students using it will not have any problems with communication.

Spain offers a wide array of dishes, each of which is influenced by the country's numerous cultural influences: Roman, Christian, Jewish, and Moorish. There are numerous foods that can be found throughout the country including: tortilla española (potato omelette), paella (a rice dish), jamón serrano (a type of cured ham), various cheeses, chorizo and morcilla (sausages), churros, flan, and magdalenas (madeleines or muffins). However, the country's cuisine also varies by its 19 regions and is indicative of the geography and culture of each. Students will have the culinary opportunity to experience typical Spanish cuisine as well as those that are indicative of the particular region in which they are studying and/or traveling.

Personal Greetings
The concept of personal space is different – hugs and kisses are common, including when meeting people for the first time. When passing locals in the street, don't be surprised if eye contact is made but no smile or greeting is exchanged.

Rhythm of Life

Spaniards typically live a much slower paced life when compared to other countries such as the U.S. Normally, breakfast is light and consists of a cup of coffee with milk, hot chocolate, and a pastry or toast. Around mid-morning, Spaniards typically take a "coffee break" to sip on a freshly squeezed glass of orange juice or a cup of coffee. Lunch is the most important, and heaviest, meal of the day and is typically eaten between 2PM and 4PM. During the hours of 2PM-5PM, many small businesses will close for workers to go home and eat lunch with their family. This break is known as the /siesta/. Dinner is eaten between 9PM-11PM and is typically much lighter and is not as important in Spain as it is in other countries such as the U.S. Commuting between housing and school will be a part of your daily routine, so be prepared to walk everywhere or use public transportation!

Living and Working Space

Spaniards generally live in smaller apartments, or pisos, instead of houses as Americans do. These apartments are compact but comfortable. You may expect to find smaller appliances (i.e. washers, dishwashers and refrigerators) and smaller living accommodations, closet space, beds, showers and tubs than in the U.S. Space heaters and fans are widely used as central air is not as common in Spain. Clothes lines and drying racks are widely used in Spain, especially in the South, and you will find clothes dryers to be less common. Also, many families shop for meals daily vs. weekly.

The Spaniards are well known for their fiestas! In every town and village in Spain at some point during the year there is a unique festival which brings all the residents together. Although most festivals have religious origins, Spaniards take the art of celebration very seriously with festivities which include costumes, traditional dance, sharing of large meals, and celebrating until the very wee hours of the morning! Each major city in Spain has a number of different regional festivals depending on the time of year. It is highly recommended that you familiarize yourself with the celebrations that will be going on during your time abroad in order to not miss out on one of these fantastically exciting cultural events!

Monuments & Must-Sees

Torres de Serrano and Torres de Quart
These well-preserved 14th and 15th-century towers were constructed by Pere Balaguer and were once the main entrances to the city. The towers are the only existing remnants of the ancient city walls that were demolished in 1865. You may visit the Torres de Serrano, which have been declared a monument of historic and artistic interest, and enjoy splendid views of the city and the river Turia from its terraces.

Rio de Turia

The Turia River used to flow along what is now a 6 mile greenbelt and park that runs through the heart of the city. Museums, playgrounds, and gardens surround jogging and biking paths enjoyed year-round by visitors and locals alike.

City of Arts and Sciences

Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences): This breathtakingly modern architectural masterpiece was designed by local architect Santiago Calatrava and attracts over 4 million visitors each year. Located in the old Turia riverbed, the complex occupies over 3.75 million square feet and includes an interactive science museum, IMAX theater, planetarium, and the largest aquarium in Europe.

Barrio del Carmen
With buildings and winding streets dating to Roman and Arabic times, this neighborhood charms visitors. The primarily Gothic Cathedral and Basilica of the Virgin are over 7 centuries old, and the Late Gothic silk exchange (La Llonja) was recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mercado Central
The central market was constructed from 1910-1926 by architects Alejandro Soler and Francisco Guardia and first opened for business in 1928. The modernist style market has over 1000 stalls and is considered one of the largest markets in Europe.

Museo de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Museum)
One of Spain's finest art museums, here one can find works by El Greco, Goya, Velázquez, Ribera, Ribalta and Valencian impressionist artists such as Sorolla and Pinazo.

Port America's Cup
The busy port of Valencia was transformed to serve as the heart of the 32nd and 33rd America's Cup sailing tournament. With a 700-berth arena, restaurants, bars, and clubs, this is one of the city's newest hot spots, day and night.

In addition to the aforementioned, there are numerous other monuments and must-sees you can explore in Valencia.

Cultural Activity

Valencia has a number of activities for international visitors to enjoy. Listed below are some different cultural activities to do while in Valencia. You can organize many of these activities on your own, with friends, or they may be sponsored by ISA. Upon arrival to Valencia, various sponsored cultural activities will be announced by the ISA Valencia directors.

See an IMAX film at the l´Hemisfèric, a Laserium, Planetarium and IMAX cinema, which belongs to the City of Arts and Sciences complex. The building was designed by Santiago Calatrava and is shaped like an eye; the cover of the cinema looks like the eye lips of the eye, and can be closed or opened. Also, Valencia has various theaters that show international films in their original language with Spanish subtitles.

Explore one of the many museums in Valencia such as the Valencian Institute of Modern Art (IVAM), Fallas Museum, Valencian Museum of Illustration and Modernity (MUVIM), Museo de Bellas Arts, Museo Lladró, amongst many more!

Experience a soccer match played by one of the most successful teams in La Liga at the 55,000-seater Mestalla Stadium, where Los Che have been playing since 1923.

Outdoor Activities
Partake in the Afro-Brazilian martial arts-dance, Capoeira, or take a bike ride in the Turia River. If you're headed to the beach, be sure to bring your roller-blades and cruise up one of the many paths. While at the beach, you'll also find a number of locals partaking in a game of beach volleyball or soccer.

La Albufera
Visit one of the most beautiful natural parks in Spain, located about ten miles southeast of Valencia. The park itself encompasses an area of about 50,000 acres. It is estimated that there are close to 250 species of birds that take refuge in the park, and nearly 100 of these species reproduce there as well. Declared a Natural Park in 1986, La Albufera is one of the most significant reserves for wildlife and vegetation in all of Spain.

Take a day trip to painter José Ribera's hometown, Xátiva, located about an hour outside of the Valencia city limits. Xàtiva is most well-known for its medieval castle constructed on the side of the Monte Bernisa and has 30 towers and four fortified gateways.

Walk the remains of the Citadel, of Roman and Moorish origin. Sagunto also has a historic Roman theater; it was the first official National Monument declared in Spain in 1896. The narrow streets of the Juderia (Old Jewish Quarter), on the hillside on the way up to the citadel.

Cultural Immersion

Language Exchange
Students will be given the opportunity to meet local and international students wishing to share their knowledge of Spanish and learn English in exchange. This activity is a great way to get to know other students in Valencia, and share your culture and language with others while learning more about your surroundings and Spanish student counterparts!

Any student truly interested in volunteering while in Valencia can work with the ISA Valencia staff to find different opportunities. Past students have volunteered with organizations such as the IUVE Foundation and the Social Development and Cultural Action Foundation (Fundación DASYC) in a variety of different areas based on the students' interest.

ISA Student Blog
Stay connected while you're abroad and share your experience with your peers back home on the ISA Student Blog, one of WordPress' top 23 recommended travel blogs! Each summer and semester the ISA Student Blog features current ISA students as bloggers, photo bloggers, and video bloggers who document their time abroad to share with their friends, family, prospective students, advisers, and more. If sharing your study abroad experience through writing, photos, videos and other media while receiving professional guidance and feedback appeals to you, consider applying to be an ISA Featured Blogger, Photo Blogger, or Video Blogger. The Site Specialist for your program will email all accepted students to notify you when ISA is accepting applications for all ISA Featured Blogger programs. Please contact the ISA Blog Team at if you have any questions.

Cultural Blogs
We also suggest you check out the plethora of other cultural blogs available on the web to learn more about others' experiences in Valencia, cultural happenings, and expat lives.

Language Resources

Helpful Phrases
Buenos días. Good morning.
Buenas tardes. Good afternoon.
Buenas noches. Good evening.

¿Cómo se llama? What is your name? (formal)
¿Cómo te llamas? What is your name? (informal)
Mucho gusto/Encantado. Nice to meet you.

Me gustaría... I'd like to order... (in a restaurant)
¡Salud! Cheers!/Bless you! (after a sneeze)
Vale. Okay.

Online Dictionary Resource

Verb Conjugation

We suggest you look up some helpful websites dedicated to verb conjugations in Spanish.

Listening & Speaking
Check out some different Spanish podcasts available to practice your verbal and listening skills.

Beware of translation websites...much can be LOST in translation!