What I Learned My First Week Abroad

First week is in the books!

I moved into my host family’s house, bought a bike, started classes, figured out the bus system, learned to surf, and spent many hours soaking up the San Sebastián sun! The excitement of actually living here for the next four months is unreal. Every evening I open my bedroom window to the golden sunset and cool breeze and watch my white curtains flutter about. Lying on my bed, I am absolutely giddy that I am here and that I can call this place my home.

As the week progressed, there was not a single day where I was not a victim of “culture shock” in some form or another. Whether I used the wrong bike lane or simply noticed a unique part of the Spanish culture, each day I added another “lesson learned” to my journal. So with that being said, take a peek at some of the interesting, and some embarrassing, things that I have learned so far while abroad!

  1. Students and professors carry mini travel backpacks or tote bags to school since they travel by foot and need a lighter load to carry throughout the city.
  2. Everything is closed from 14:00 to approximately 17:00 because of siesta. During this time, most people return to their homes for lunch and an afternoon of rest.
  3. There is the road, a bike lane, and the sidewalk. The red lane is only for bikes. And bikes are only for the red lane.
  4. Always carry a swim suit and towel to class because you never know where you might end up that afternoon.
  5. When surfing, choose the longer wet suits. Otherwise you will look like a biker dude and get an arm rash 🙂
  6. Topless beaches are a thing. It’s normal here but I’m still not sure about this one…
  7. No one speaks English so it is all on you!
  8. *Hug*kiss*kiss*
  9. Have a meeting place for you and your amigos to meet before you leave an area that has WiFi.
  10. Don’t ride your bicycle with the seat too high. Not a good idea, trust me.
  11. A rule is a rule. People do not bend them or give special treatment.
  12. Sadly, people do not understand “y’all” so I gotta go with “you guys” for a little while (this one is sooo hard!).
  13. Dinner is between 20:00 and 22:00. Helpppp!
  14. Go by moped, bicycle, taxi, autobus, or your feet.
  15. Grocery bags are 10 cents a piece.
  16. Everything is smaller–cars, refrigerators, shampoo bottles, clothes, cups, you name it!
  17. Most places do not have air conditioning which means you can’t wait until you can open a window!
  18. Hand washing dishes is not that bad (well, when you are cleaning up for two that is, hehe).
  19. Clothes do perfectly fine without a dryer. Hanging on a clothes line is better than what it seems!
  20. The fashion is so similar to the United States! White tennis shoes, platform heels, high waisted jeans, wicker purses… all are just as fashionable here too!
  21. People rely more on others than their phones. This has made me realize how much I rely on my phone to get through my day to day routine, pass time, or look busy.
  22. Don’t fall asleep on the beach at high tide… or else.
  23. At restaurants, everyone’s orders are combined onto one check. Now, I always keep smaller bills with me so that it is easier for me and my friends to pay our share.
  24. Water is not free at restaurants, I repeat water is not free at restaurants.
  25. Trash is separated into three categories: paper, plastic, and grease/oil. The one that surprised me the most was not pouring grease/oil down the sink. Instead, we pour it into a glass jar and toss it into the grease/oil bin outside of our apartment!
  26. Every town and village has a church/cathedral that is used to indicate the city center. They are often used as a place of gathering or meeting point.
  27. Europeans love American music. Don’t let them fool you!.
  28. I love the one and two Euro coins. So convenient!
  29. Bread goes with any and every meal.
  30. It is truly a humbling experience when you have to use Google Translate to help you read the simplest of all bottles of lotions in the store. That app is a life saver people!

Some say that the first week is the hardest. You’re adjusting to literally everything–the time change, a new language, public transportation, temperature change, eating schedule, foreign foods, and no air conditioning just to name a few. While I have adjusted to some of these things, I know that there are still more times of adjustment ahead of me and some things I just might not ever adjust to (such as eating dinner at 9:00). But it’s moments like those that broaden our perspective and expose us to a completely different way of life. Here’s to embracing each and every moment of “something different” and “something new” (and trust me, there are a lot of these moments).

Ely Middleton is from Clemson University. She studied abroad in San Sebastián, Spain. You can read more about her time abroad on her blog, Letters from Ely.