After centuries of cultural and economic isolation, Spain is today a rapidly modernizing and economically vibrant European Union nation of 40 million people. Few outsiders grasp the diversity of Spain’s culture and geography.

Many generalizations about Spain prove to be incorrect. Not all Spaniards even speak Spanish! In the north - Galicia, the Basque country, and Cataluña - each region has its own language and unique customs. Central regions speak standard Castilian, while Valencia has its own dialect and Andalucía, in the south, its own unique accent and folklore.

Increasing numbers of immigrants from Eastern Europe, South America, Asia and Africa are changing the existing population into a more multiracial, multiethnic society.

Getting to know the people

Like other Mediterranean cultures, the Spaniards tend to look for entertainment outside the home. Favorite meeting places are pubs, restaurants, theaters and cafeterias, cafes and city squares. This “living in public” gives visiting students an additional opportunity to interact with the Spanish people and increase their understanding of the land where they study.

Social attitudes, once among the most conservative in Europe, are changing rapidly as younger generations come forward. Since entering the European Union, more social change is taking place with greater numbers of women entering the workforce.

Getting to know the country

Apart from its world-famous Mediterranean beaches and popular islands, Spain has a big geographical variety to offer. In its extensive costal line, you’ll find sandy low beaches bathed by the warm blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, such as those in Alicante, Valencia and Málaga; but you can also admire the rugged cliffs and rocky beaches bathed by the deep blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean, such as those in Galicia, Asturias and the Basque Country.

Spain’s mountains are just as spectacular as its beaches. In the Pyrenees, which mark the border with France, you can go skiing and hiking on peaks over 10,000 feet high. Very close to the Mediterranean coast, you’ll find the Bética mountain range, with its popular ski resort in Granada. From the heights of the Picos de Europa in the north, you’ll be able to enjoy the amazing green areas and lakes of Asturias. Madrid, in its privileged location by the mountain range on the central plateau, is the perfect starting point for any day or weekend trips.

How Spain sees the United States

American students in Spain may expect lively discussions with their Spanish friends, and will benefit by keeping an open mind. Some Spaniards have mixed opinions about the United States. Like others around the world, they both embrace and resent the introduction of American culture, from fast food and blue jeans to movies and social attitudes. As an ambassador of your own country, observe and learn about Spanish culture, being careful not to impose your own beliefs.