Before arriving in Salamanca to begin a year of studying, a friend who had done a year abroad in Spain told me it would be all about siestas and fiestas and not much work. So how true are the Spanish myths?

Siesta

If you were to walk through Salamanca between 2.30 and 5.30pm it would be deserted. Shops close, we don’t have classes and blinds are down. My Spanish housemate religiously takes a siesta every day. But how can a country work like this? Instead of the usual 9-5, we have classes from 9am-1pm and then 5pm-9pm. It’s not easy getting used to finishing a class on the Political Systems of Latin America at 9pm on a Wednesday evening when we know you’re all gearing up for Loveshack… But there are some perks.

Fiesta

With temperatures of 20 plus degrees until last week, every bar in the city had seats outside. The university café sells pints (slightly bizarre when you see your professor having a cerveza before your class) and during the siesta if people aren’t sleeping, they’re drinking – beer is literally as cheap as water here. Pres don’t begin until midnight, if you head to the club before 3am you’re clearly a foreigner and 6.30am seems to be the prime time to get a ‘midnight’ snack on your way back. Getting used to this schedule you realise life is pretty similar to England but just everything happens 3 hours later.

You won’t study

Doing 4 tonnes of paperwork before leaving Durham (including a risk assessment…) you live knowing it’ll all be worth it when you’re abroad doing minimal work and everyone in Durham are starting their diss’. How naive I was… I have between 4-6 hours of ‘classes’ a day (and yes they feel like classes… seminars don’t exist). This was manageable at first but when you get whacked with an 8,000-word essay, three mid-terms and 5 critical commentaries (all in Spanish…) you start to realise that you might actually have to put some time into your academic commitments.

The Spanish are always late

We figured out the different schedule that Spaniards work on when our landlord’s daughter turned up at 11pm on a Sunday night to pick up some stuff and didn’t leave until 1am. Classes don’t start until 20 past the hour, if you’re lucky, which makes the 3 hour sessions a bit more tolerable. ‘Mañana, mañana’ is probably one of the most used phrases; you need to get your laptop fixed, you want someone to install your wifi, you have a deadline in three days or you want to plan your next weekend-away – it can all wait until tomorrow…

Spaniards dress well

The trusty jeans and jumper tactic doesn’t cut it for a 9am lecture. Everyone looks like they have bought the entire Zara collection (Salamanca has 3 Zaras) and spent 2 hours getting ready for class (we have yet to confirm whether this is the case). This doesn’t just extend to the students - the abuelas are perfectly put together and look with distain at ripped jeans and trainers.

 

So for the most part, the clichés are true - we siesta and fiesta. Travelling on weekends is a huge perk – especially as the university actually gives us bank holidays (roll on trips to Portugal, Cadiz and Bilbao). I’m definitely not envious of everyone facing the prospect of their first dissertation deadlines but when you’re in the Billy B slaving away, imagine us on our year abroad attempting to write anything vaguely academic in a foreign language – it’s a bit harder than you might think…

Charlotte Robson