Shocking Observations From a Student Abroad

Audrey Glas
September 27, 2021

Yep, I’m experiencing culture shock from living in another country. Are you shocked?

It’s Electric (boogie woogie woogie)

The first shocking thing is electricity. The voltage is different, and the plugs are different so I always have to have an adapter with me. I not only have to remember to bring my laptop charger, but also my adapter or I have a dead laptop.


The first day I had lunch in my dining hall, there were some foods I recognized: French fries and salad. But there were also some surprising things and things I didn’t recognize. One of the things I tried was a fried piece of possibly meat. To be honest, I’m still not sure what it was, but it was yummy. What I did recognize but I wasn’t brave enough to try yet was an entire fish (there is SO MUCH fish here.) I’m willing to try just about anything, but on my first day with my stomach still a little offended by the less-than-ideal airplane food, I wasn’t ready to try the whole fish with its eyes staring at me. Maybe I will figure out what the fried food from my first day was, and maybe I’ll try the fish, but I’m not quite sure yet. However, I did convince myself to try shark when I visited Málaga because it was a beach town, and I was told I could ONLY eat seafood in a town like Málaga. I also visited Valencia where I was told I had to try the paella, so my group ordered a few, one of which had rabbit. That was also something I had never planned to eat until it appeared in a massive pan in front of me. In general, most of the time I don’t really know what I’m ordering but so far, it’s been turning out pretty well!

In terms of things I somewhat recognize, the fast food here, even chains from the US, are different. They have quite a different menu. I was very surprised to find beer on the menu on the self-ordering kiosk in the McDonalds.

As a person that drinks nearly exorbitant amounts of water because I hate being dehydrated, I was upset to discover that at restaurants they don’t just give you free water. You have to specially ask for it, they judge you, and you have to pay extra :/

The Bathroom

First of all, the flushes here sound like something is about to explode. I’ve never heard such an aggressive toilet flush, and it startled me the first several times I used the bathroom in my dorm. The flushers are also very different. They’re not like handle flushers, they’re either like a big stick on the back of the toilet you have to push, or a little button on the tank of the toilet.

While I’m on the topic of bathrooms, I HAVE TO mention that here they don’t have stalls like we do in the US. The stalls here have doors that fully close (and don’t have gaps), and I’ve never once been close to accidentally making eye contact with someone from the stall like I have at home.

Ok, one more bathroom issue, I promise it’s not graphic. I also had an experience where I couldn’t find a restroom. I went into a building looking for bathroom signs, but I couldn’t see any. What I know now is that Spain uses a different word than I was taught to indicate bathrooms in a building. It was like seeing a sign that says toilets instead of restrooms but forgetting what a toilet is and accordingly getting lost wondering how to find a bathroom. I did eventually find the restroom but ran into another roadblock. The bathrooms were marked not with signs with little people indicating gendered bathrooms. Rather, I was met with doors marked “M” and “H.”

As an English speaker my mind went straight to M=male, my male friend can use the M-marked bathroom. Nope, my first thought was wrong; M=mujeres, and H=hombres meaning that M=female and H=male. Thank goodness he came with me, or I may have entered the H bathroom by accident thinking it was the women’s restroom.

Needless to say, it’s a bit of an adjustment to adapt to these culture shocks, but I find comfort in that my friends and travel companions are right there with me navigating the strange and unique experience that is studying abroad.

Audrey Glas

<p>I am a student at Gettysburg College '22 studying Political Science, Spanish, and Peace and Justice Studies. Studying abroad in the Madrid - Language and Area Studies Program Fall 2021 is my first real experience abroad and I am excited to engage with the cultural experience I will have access to exploring Spain! In my free time I enjoy baking, cooking, listening to every genre of music, hiking, and other outside activities. I'm so excited to take a break from my small historical battlefield college town and move to a big capital city in a new country with a whole different history!</p>

2021 Fall
Home University:
Gettysburg College
Harrisburg, PA
Political Science
Explore Blogs