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Spain: A Religious Country? 09/05/2014 at 9:18 AM EST

Upon arriving in Spain, I was a bit nervous about attending a Catholic university. I pictured nuns roaming the school with yard sticks, ready to discipline students. I was although disappointed that I did not see nuns or fathers walking around the city. I was always interested in their attire, a long black cloak complimented by a necklace with a large crucifix pendant. When I told friends and family that I will be in Spain for fourth months, they all told me that Spain is a very religious country and therefore, it is not a surprise that I will attend a Catholic university.
One of the reasons I chose to study abroad in Spain was related to my faith-based beliefs. Being in a country where I would be able to find a worship center was important to me. Additionally, I thought it would enhance my experience in Spain if I had the opportunity to learn and/or witness how Spaniards respond and interact with their faith. Nevertheless, my Catholics friends told me that Catholics are very strict, which reminded of me of presupposed notion that nuns would roam the hallways with wooden yard sticks. To add to this fear, I knew Comillas had a sanctuary. I was not sure if it was mandatory for all students to attend. Fortunately, the first day of orientation, the school's father spoke to us about pastoral activities and made it clear that those activities are not mandatory.
Though I am not Catholic but Protestant, overall, I was excited to attend a faith-based school again. I wondered if students would be required to do some of the same things I had to do. I attended a faith-based, private school that was only for kindergarten. At the age five, I did not understand the majority of the activities my class had to do every day, such as, singing songs and reciting a scripture every day before starting the school day in the school's sanctuary; however, I was able to appreciate the experience once old enough to understand.
There is a statue of mother Mary on the first floor of the main classroom building. It is placed in a visible place, near the stairs. Also, there is a cross on the wall of every classroom. Lastly, every building on campus has a cross on it. These elements are great reminders for students that Comillas is a Catholic university but there is no reference to the cross or to mother Mary in or outside of the classroom. There are no mandatory readings of a scripture, for an example, or even an allegiance to the flag. The Spain flag is not present in any of the classroom unlike classrooms in America.
I'm happy I attended a Catholic university to erase the stereotypes I had of Spain as an entirely religious country.

My First Spanish Midday Meal 09/04/2014 at 8:30 PM EST

There are various cultural differences that I have noticed from being in Spain for only eleven days but "siestas" continually grab my attention. The word is used very often on and off-campus. Before coming to Spain, I was aware of the concept of a "siesta." The term was introduced to me while studying Spanish at Drexel. It was defined as an authorized afternoon nap for employees. Now that I am in a country that recognizes it, it is easy for me to feel compelled to view it as a privilege, considering that employees are given the opportunity to leave work for about two hours and it is considered a "break." Although most jobs in the United States offer breaks, they are most likely twenty minutes or less; furthermore, the idea of a long break in the United States can be portrayed as the "break" Americans are given between the time that their work shift ends and when it starts the next day.
Also, before coming to Spain, I would not have imagined that siestas are embedded in Spanish culture. Hence, it is not an optional "privilege" but very customary. Businesses are temporarily closed during the middle of the day. The businesses that I have seen close around 2:30pm, reopen at 5pm and officially close around 9 or 9:30pm. While walking in Madrid around 2:30pm, I have witnessed store owners closing their shops and walking towards the closest metro station with friends. I also had the chance to witness a shop preparing for its afternoon break while applying for a student public transportation pass.
What I didn't know about siestas is that it is followed by an afternoon meal. I previously thought that employees were allowed to go home to rest during the middle of the day due to weariness. I learned that siestas are taken after an afternoon meal. Moreover, lunch is the most important meal of the day for Spaniards. It is eaten usually around 2 p.m., usually with friends and/or family.
This is my first week at Comillas and today I had a two hour break from 12:30 to 2:30pm, which is during the ideal times Spaniards have lunch. I decided to have the "most important meal of the day" for Spaniards today. I ordered "un filete de pollo con papas fritas y una ensalada (a chicken filet with fries and a salad)." I ordered this in particular because I thought that the use of the word "un filete" had to be an exaggeration, considering that the price for the meal was only €4.70 (approximately $6.09). Apparently, it was not an exaggeration. I had to finish a large serving of food in less than 35 minutes. No wonder the siesta is two hours!