This week marks my fifth week in Toledo, Spain and I am still waiting to go through the normal stages of culture shock. This is not to say that there are distinct differences between the Spanish culture and the American way of life. In fact, they couldn’t be more different which is why I chose to study abroad.
The biggest difference, in my opinion, between the two cultures is the value and importance placed on the family unit. The Spanish culture revolves around the family. Therefore, taking care of one another has priority over everything else. Take a stroll outside and you’ll instantly notice that the Spanish culture places much importance on relationships. They are very affectionate people. I have yet to see an elderly couple that is not holding hands as they pass through the plaza. I have also noticed that dads play a very active role in taking care of their children. On the bus, people frequently stand next to the bus driver and catch up on the news and each other’s lives.
One cultural aspect I would love to bring to the United States would be the “dos besos” greeting. In Spain, people greet one another by touching cheeks. In my opinion, this style of greeting new acquaintances and old friends encourages closer relationships from the beginning.
The biggest adjustment for me has been getting used to the fact that I don’t always have to be somewhere at a certain time. Yes, I have commitments here. The difference is that here I can eat lunch with a friend and not be constantly thinking about the next place I have to be. I can cherish the moment for what it’s worth. This is not to say that I can’t do this at SNC…it is a constant challenge throughout life’s different stages.
Alyssa Wolan is studying abroad in Toledo, Spain, at the Fundación de Ortega y Gasset with the University of Minnesota.