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By Trevaleyus Harris, Albion College

Learning about culture shock is very different than actually experiencing it. Here in Barcelona, I was introduced to some local college students. I met a student from the Basque Country in Spain. As we were walking around Plaça Catalunya, he told me about his time studying in Barcelona and some things he does as part of his culture. He told me that when he has dinner with his friends and family, they would typically start around 9 or 10 pm and would not end until 11 pm or even midnight. I thought to myself, wow that is an extremely long time for a dinner. From this alone I knew our cultures were already so different. I let him know that dinner for me usually starts around 6 or 7 pm and usually lasts an hour or so. He told me that simply wasn’t enough time to talk about everyone’s days and things that are going on in their lives. Barcelona taught me that dinner time is important in order to get these conversations in; so naturally, they take much longer.

As we were walking, we reached a pole and rather than walking on either side, I stopped to go around it using the same side as my new friend. We continued our conversation and as he told me about what he does with friends on the weekend, we split another pole – I stopped and backtracked to go around the other side of the pole. He asked me why I kept going around the pole in this way, and I told him it was bad luck to let something like a pole split the person you’re walking with. He told me that he had never seen anyone do that before, and he’d never even met anyone that believed in superstitions.

Next, my new friend asked if I was religious and I told him that I was. He told me that most people that he knows are not religious.  He told me that him and his family are atheists, and took the time to explain that many people in Spain are nonbelievers due to Spain’s history.  I thanked him for explaining all of this to me. He apologized if he offended me, but I told him not to worry because it was a learning experience for both of us. In encounters with culture shock like this experience, I’m glad that I had already learned to keep an open mind.