Cultural Information - Vietnam
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Answers to your intercultural questions from a Canadian and a local point of view.
Cultural Information - Conversations
Question: I am meeting someone for the first time and I want to make a good impression. What would be good discussion topics?
It depends on the purpose of the meeting. If it is a business meeting, focus should be placed on work related issues. Start-off conversation with comments about weather or traffic, and then ask work-related questions. It is not uncommon that many Vietnamese working in Hanoi, Ho chi Minh City, or other major cities in Vietnam, were not born and raised in that particular city. Thus, a good topic for a first meeting could be "What part of Vietnam are you from?" or “Where is your hometown?”
If it is a social meeting, focus can be placed on family, which is extremely important to most Vietnamese. In this context, it is culturally acceptable to ask questions about a person’s age, marital status, parents (e.g., “How are your parents doing?”), siblings (e.g., “How many brothers/ sisters do you have”), children (e.g., “How many children do you have? How old are they? What grades are they in?”), spouses (Where does your husband/ wife do?”), etc. Vietnamese appreciate when such personal questions are asked, as these convey that a person cares about their lives.
Vietnamese would be impressed hearing someone speak some Vietnamese, it indicates an interest to learn some Vietnamese. A very common Vietnamese word used at the first meeting is “Xin Chao”, which can be used for greeting people of different ages and bidding farewell to them.
If a person meets a Vietnamese for the first time, it is suggested that he/she avoid sensitive topics such as politics, religion, democracy and human rights. Should Vietnamese be interested in knowing the person’s views on these topics, they would proactively raise them.
Vietnamese usually enjoy humour. However, when meeting someone for the first time, consider avoiding jokes, especially on the sensitive topics mentioned above.
Family is a crucial part of a Vietnamese person’s life; having pictures (of your children, parents, brothers and sisters) is a good idea; Vietnamese people will be curious to know what they do. They will ask you your marital status, how many children you have, and may even want to know your salary. They’ll also want to know what you think of Vietnam (your thoughts on the people, the food, the customs, etc.). Customs are also a topic of interest. Avoid politics during your initial contact.
Cultural Information - Communication Styles
Question: What do I need to know about verbal and non-verbal communications?
Communication styles depend on the context of meeting. Both men and women shake hands at business meetings or formal events. In a casual context, Vietnamese usually say "hi" or "how are you?" instead of shaking hands. They tend to maintain a certain distance when speaking to someone. Vietnamese rarely greet by kissing each other on the cheek, even among close friends. Hugging is becoming more common, particularly among younger people if they know each other well.
Vietnamese do not usually maintain their eye contact when they speak to a person; however, they would not feel offended if someone maintains eye contact with them. Hand gestures are not common in communication. Sitting on the table, slouch, and pointing fingers at someone should be avoided.
Vietnamese tend to avoid direct confrontation, and keeping face in the public is very important to them. They usually prefer to speak in an indirect manner, particularly on sensitive or controversial issues. At the workplace, many discussions take place behind the scenes in order to seek agreement or consensus on these issues.
Communications remain challenging in Vietnam. The Vietnamese language is very demanding with its 5–6 tones, its nuances and discussion levels (e.g., you cannot talk to a youth as you would to an elder, etc.); even after a few years in Vietnam, a Canadian who has learned to speak Vietnamese will understand about 50% of a conversation. Communications often involve an interpreter, which creates an added challenge since some are more competent than others. The same goes for the translation of documents (it is estimated that about 50% of translations are 50% reliable). Do not hesitate to repeat the terms of an agreement or the conclusions of a discussion or to have them repeated to you; it is better to put everything in writing, even though this doesn’t ensure compliance with the terms or conclusions. As for non-verbal communications, remember that the Vietnamese always try to keep a neutral attitude.
Cultural Information - Display of Emotion
Question: Are public displays of affection, anger or other emotions acceptable?
In business or formal settings, Vietnamese tend not to display their emotions. However, in a casual context, public displays of affection, happiness, anger, sadness, grief and other emotions are acceptable.
The Vietnamese are very discreet and rarely show their emotions (happiness, anger, fear); they expect the same attitude/self-control from the people they interact with (colleague, boss, etc.).
Cultural Information - Dress, Punctuality & Formality
Question: What should I know about the workplace environment (deadlines, dress, formality, etc.)?
Vietnamese people generally like to dress formally. Many of them, especially in Northern Vietnam, judge others by appearance. However, the way people dress depends on the workplace environment. If they work for international organizations, companies, or local governmental organizations, business attire is expected. If they work for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), less formal dress is acceptable.
In Vietnam, offices are usually open from 7:30/ 8:00 a.m. to 4:30/ 5:00p.m. International organizations, international NGOs or foreign companies usually follow international working standards. However, in local governmental organizations, employees tend to have a long lunch (1.0-1.5 hour) and usually take a nap after lunch, for 30 minutes or one hour, which would make their lunchtime last even longer (i.e., 1.5 - 2.00 hour). In addition, in these organizations, deadlines and work schedules are not strictly followed (i.e., many people come late while still leaving early; or meetings and events can be scheduled and cancelled at the last minute).
Address Vietnamese colleagues and supervisors by their given names. When addressing a Vietnamese, a person is encouraged to learn how to add an appropriate pronoun to that person’s given name based on his/ her age (e.g., “anh” A, “chi” B, “ong” C, “ba” D; etc.). If someone is the same age or younger, simply call them by their given names without adding a pronoun.
Vietnamese people can be very strict. Therefore, be punctual and formal especially for work-related meetings; the atmosphere will become more casual during subsequent meetings, particularly if you build a relationship. As for the dress code, our tastes (style, colour, etc.) are diametrically opposed. As a general rule: dress formally, wear clean and ironed clothes (blouse, dress with sleeves for women; shirt and pants for men—no T-shirts, no need to wear a jacket, since the Vietnamese don’t necessarily wear them). Appearance is very important.
Cultural Information - Preferred Managerial Qualities
Question: What qualities are most highly regarded in a local superior/manager? How will I know how my staff view me?
Experience, leadership, education, work ethic and integrity are key qualities for a local supervisor/ manager in Vietnam. Local employees might set even a higher expectation as an expatriate supervisor/ manager, because they expect foreigners to share new knowledge, innovative ideas and creative methods that they would hardly acquire from local management/ resources. Local staff might have that perception, since expatriate supervisor/ manager is getting paid much higher than local people, it is expected that they work harder and perform better.
It is important to obtain feedback from local staff on a regular basis, build a strong rapport with them, and maintain frequent interactions with them. This would help any foreigner know more about their views of them. In addition, show care and respect for their local staff, as many of them would expect that their manager is not only competent but also personable and approachable. Given their long history of fighting against foreign invasions, Vietnamese tend to resist external imposition. Therefore, at the workplace, a person is encouraged to seek clarification and build consensus through discussions, including one-to-one engagement, rather than simply imposing their views, as this may negatively affect long-term relationships with local staff.
Impose your authority, especially if you are a woman. But be subtle about it, since the Vietnamese don't like to "obey," particularly if you are of the same age group. It is hard to know what they think, since they don’t externalize their emotions/feelings. Be patient and observant.
Note: in the 1990s, in each office or work unit, there was a person who was responsible for reporting everything to the local Communist Party representative; land lines were all under surveillance. Is this the case in 2016?
Cultural Information - Hierarchy and Decision-making
Question: In the workplace, how are decisions taken and by whom? Is it acceptable to go to my immediate supervisor for answers or feedback?
In a hierarchical society like Vietnam, the top-down approach remains preferred, and decisions are usually taken by the head of the organization. However, consultations and building consensus play an important role in the decision-making process, particularly in public-sector organizations, including governmental agencies and other entities that owned and/ or run by the government (i.e., state-owned enterprises; universities; schools, hospitals; etc.). In addition, as Vietnam is still maintaining a communist regime, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) still play a crucial role in most public-sector organizations. For instance, CPV representatives do not run these organizations administratively; however, they still have the right to review (and even revoke when necessary) major decisions made by managers/ administrators, particularly with respect to personnel issues.
Vietnamese people tend to keep their distance from their immediate supervisors/ managers and not to disclose their feelings and thoughts directly to their bosses. Therefore, they usually share their work-related concerns with co-workers and/ or family members or relatives, and seek feedback or advice from these people. Should Vietnamese be interested in discussing sensitive or controversial issues with their supervisors/ managers, they would prefer to raise these issues in an indirect manner. To avoid direct confrontation at the workplace, they tend to conduct one-to-one informal discussions regarding their problems/ challenges, rather than raising them during formal meetings.
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Cultural Information - Religion, Class, Ethnicity, & Gender
Question: Briefly describe the local culture’s attitudes regarding the following: Gender, Class, Religion and Ethnicity. What impact would the above attitudes have on the workplace?
Maintaining the communist regime, Vietnam is officially an atheist country. However many Vietnamese continue to practise "informal" religious customs and folk religions. For instance, most Vietnamese honour their ancestors and follow rituals for birth, death, marriage, opening a new business, moving, etc. Vietnamese and foreigners are allowed to practice their religions, provided that these religions are permitted and closely monitored by the government. Major religions in Vietnam include Mahayana Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Theravada Buddhism, Hoa Hao and Cao Dai. At this point, religion remains one of the most politically sensitive and scrutinized topics in Vietnam. Should anybody be interested in discussing this topic at the workplace, be aware of the specific sensitivities related to the issue.
Generally, the issue of class is not discussed in Vietnam nowadays. Instead, social gaps and inequality are becoming widely discussed topics. Instead of asking about a person’s class, Vietnamese people would be much more curious in learning about a person’s place of origin as well as social and economic backgrounds.
Vietnam has 54 distinct ethnic groups, and each group has its own language, lifestyle, and cultural heritage. “Kinh”, which accounts for over 86% of the population, is Vietnam’s largest ethnic group and dominant in all walks of life of the country. In addition, other major ethnic groups in Vietnam include Tay, Thai, Muong, Khmer Krom, Hoa, Nung, Hmong, etc. The government has attempted to build roads, schools and hospitals for the poorest ethnic groups. However, ethnic minorities are still facing numerous difficulties (i.e., widening poverty gap; higher illiteracy and school drop-out rates; later enrollment rates; etc.). Human rights of ethnic minorities remain a politically sensitive issue in Vietnam.
Although Vietnam has recently achieved some progress in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, it remains a male-dominated society, particularly in rural areas and among most ethnic minorities. Vietnamese women are still facing numerous obstacles, including poverty, limited access to higher education and employment opportunities, persistent discriminatory attitudes and behaviours, under-representation in politics; etc. However, female expatriates are usually respected and rarely face discriminations at the workplace.
Women are not valued in Vietnamese society. Women in key positions (politics, management, etc.) are often figureheads, since men make the decisions. That being said, women are often hired by foreigners since they work well and can accomplish difficult tasks in a governmental position, for example.
There are no social classes as in other Asian countries. Here, people refer to themselves as being from the North (Vietnam) or the South (Vietnam), the North (the victors) having the upper hand over the South (the vanquished).
Religion is a personal aspect of people’s lives and is not considered a taboo or source of conflict. The Vietnamese generally practise Buddhism. Religious holidays are a pretext to visit the numerous temples and pagodas.
As for ethnicity, Vietnam is dominated by the Kinh, a group that occupies all spheres of society; minority groups from the extreme North as well as the plains and mountains of the South are marginalized in terms of access to goods, services and rights. They are often used/shown as a tourist attraction.
Cultural Information - Relationship-building
Question: How important is it to establish a personal relationship with a colleague or client before getting to business?
A personal relationship in Vietnam is extremely important, which is based on the mutual interest and trust from both sides, and would take time to develop. A person might want to ask a third party to introduce him/her to Vietnamese colleagues or clients before getting to business. Frequent in-person visits would be much more efficient than phone calls or e-mails. Establishing a personal relationship with Vietnamese, can be done through inviting them for lunch, dinner, or drink, and sharing some personal stories, so that they would be able to understand him/her better. In addition, gift-giving is a common practice in Vietnam. A gift, which may consist of small, inexpensive souvenirs from a person’s home country, could help highlight his/her care for local colleagues or clients.
Personal relationships are crucial to business development or other work relationships. Vietnamese love to eat, so a meal will always accompany a formal meeting; gifts will also be exchanged. The Vietnamese host usually organizes the first meeting. He or she will take care of lodging arrangements and logistics. At subsequent meetings, the foreigner can choose his/her own lodgings and have a say in arranging logistics (places to see, people to meet, etc.). Be patient and observant. Foreigners might have to face some alcohol-related challenges; Vietnamese men love to drink strong alcohol during meals and will judge others by their alcohol consumption. A foreign woman can always admit her inability to follow suit with her Vietnamese colleagues—she is but a weak woman!
Cultural Information - Privileges and Favouritism
Question: Would a colleague or employee expect special privileges or considerations given our personal relationship or friendship?
Local colleagues or employees might not explicitly ask a foreigner to give them special privileges or considerations given his/her personal relationship or friendship with them. However, such requests are not uncommon at the workplace and could even be accepted culturally, as working relationships and personal relationships tend to be blended in the Vietnamese society. In public-sector organizations, jobs, career advancement opportunities, overseas travel, etc. are usually given to family members, friends or acquaintances. In addition, in these organizations, personnel considerations and appointments tend to be given to those who are members of the Communist Party.
Certainly! The Vietnamese give gifts freely and expect to receive them. However, one should be firm with regard to terms of employment. Rules should be written and limits established. Do not hesitate to fire an employee if he or she has overstepped his or her bounds.
Cultural Information - Conflicts in the Workplace
Question: I have a work-related problem with a colleague. Do I confront him or her directly? Privately or publicly?
Keeping face is extremely important to most Vietnamese who tend to avoid direct confrontations. Therefore, should a person encounter work-related problems with local colleagues or employees, it is best not to confront them publicly (unless other recourses have been exhausted). Instead, arrange a one-to-one meeting to discuss the issues privately. Consider starting the conversations by asking local colleagues/ employees how their families are doing before raising the issues. Think about consulting senior colleagues to obtain advice on an appropriate approach to raising sensitive and controversial issues at the workplace.
Work-related problems should not to be dealt with in public; one should not lose face in front of his or her colleagues. It is difficult to confront another person, since he or she will (seemingly) accept your reprimands in silence, yet may use it later against you. The Vietnamese don’t accept criticism well.
Cultural Information - Motivating Local Colleagues
Question: What motivates my local colleagues to perform well on the job?
It depends on the sector; however, generally, financial incentives, recognition, job satisfaction, working conditions, overseas travel can be key factors to motivating local colleagues/ employees to perform better. Loyalty should not be taken for granted, particularly in the private sector, where younger employees tend to change their jobs more often should they find a better-paid work. As the base salaries of most public-sector employees remain very low, it is not uncommon that many of them seek additional incomes through extra works (e.g., selling merchandises online; or providing catering services; etc.).
The Vietnamese are a very proud people. The best way to motivate them is to congratulate them for work done or for their initiative even if the work or initiative was your own. Sharing a meal with colleagues is also a good way of showing interest in the people and their country.
Cultural Information - Recommended Books, Films & Foods
Question: To help me learn more about the local culture(s), please recommend: books, films, television shows, music and foods.
- “Vietnam - Culture Smart: the essential guide to customs and culture” (Geoffrey Murray, 2006)
- “Wandering Through Vietnamese Culture” (Huu Ngoc, 2004)
- “Culture Shock! Vietnam: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette (Claire Ellis, 2002)
- “Understanding Vietnam” (Neil L. Jamieson, 1995)
- “The Foods of Vietnam” (Routhier, 1999)
- “Good Morning, Vietnam” (1987)
- “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara” (2003)
- “Cyclo” (1995)
- “Three Seasons” (1999)
- “The Scent of green Papaya” (1993).
- “Vietnam in HD” (2011)
- “Vietnam: A Television History” (1983)
- “Tour of Duty” (1987)
- “Vietnam’s Got Talent”
- “Vietnam’s Next Top Model”
- Imperial court music: “nha nhac; “tieu nhac”; “dai nhac”.
- Folk music: “dan ca”; “quan ho”; “hat chau van”; “ca tru”; “ho”; and “hat xam”; etc.
- Traditional musical instruments: “dan bau”; “dan nguyet”; “dan tranh”; etc.
- Famous musicians: Trinh Cong Son, Van Cao, Phu Quang, Thanh Tung, Tran Tien, Pham Duy…etc.
- Popular pop singers: Thanh Lam, Hong Nhung, My Linh, Tran Thu Ha, My Tam, Ho Ngoc Ha, Lam Truong, Quang Dung; etc.
- Vietnamese rice-noodle soup (Pho)
- Spring rolls (“Nem” or “Cha gio”)
- Slad rolls ((“Nem cuon”)
- Sticky rice (“Xoi")
- Vietnamese sandwich (“Banh my”)
- Square cakes (“Banh chung”)
Learning to eat with chopsticks will impress your host. The Internet offers a great deal of information about places you can visit (north, south, capital, small provincial towns, etc.). Try visiting the Vietnamese neighbourhood or Asian Quarter of your city.
Cultural Information - In-country Activities
Question: When in this country, I want to learn more about the culture(s) and people. What activities can you recommend?
Seeking advice from other expatriates, particularly those who have lived in Vietnam for a while, as well as a person’s Vietnamese colleagues is a great way to learn more about the local culture and people. They would be able to recommend specific activities and share useful tips and insights into different cultural aspects of the city/ town/ area where he/she lives and works.
Also a person can go to local restaurants, coffee shops, markets, parks, museums, cultural houses, etc., to observe the local life and socialize with local people. Attend traditional and cultural events (performances). If invited by local colleagues, visit their homes. Visit the countryside and other cities/ towns/ areas of Vietnam to learn more about Vietnamese sub-cultures, which are quite different (i.e., Northern Vietnam; Central Vietnam; Southern Vietnam).
Upon arrival, accept the activities your host will suggest (Buddhist temple visits, typical shows, historic sites, etc.). The country is a beautiful place to visit; several transportation, lodging and activity options are available throughout the country. A woman can travel alone quite easily as long as she follows the usual precautions (passport and money in a secure place, appropriate clothing, etc.).
Cultural Information - National Heroes
Question: Who are this country's national heroes?
In Vietnam, national heroes (e.g., Hai Ba Trung, Ngo Quyen, Dinh Tien Hoang, Ly Thuong Kiet, Tran Hung Dao, Le Loi, Nguyen Trai, Quang Trung - Nguyen Hue, Vo Nguyen Giap, etc.) are honoured by naming streets after them, reflecting the country’s rich history of fighting against foreign invaders.
Ho Chi Minh is the most prominent national hero since he was the founder of modern Vietnam. General Giap also had a great impact on the history of the resistance of these very resilient, inventive and stubborn people. The Vietnamese are history buffs and love to share tales of their resistance against the invaders (Chinese, French, Japanese, Americans).
Cultural Information - Shared Historical Events with Canada
Question: Are there shared historical events between this country and Canada that could affect work or social relations?
Generally, Canada and Canadians are well regarded in Vietnam. Many Vietnamese are appreciative of the fact that Canada did not fight in the Vietnam War and even helped enforce the Paris Peace Accords that ended this war.
Nothing in particular. Canada and Canadians are welcomed in Vietnam
Cultural Information - Stereotypes
Question: What stereotypes do Canadians have about the local culture that might be harmful to effective relations?
A stereotype about Vietnam is based on the perception of a “communist” Vietnam, which maintains “one-party system that prohibits free expression”. Although Vietnam is still governed by the Vietnamese Communist Party, people in this country come from different social, cultural, professional and political backgrounds and many of them have different ways of seeing the world and are quite open in expressing their views.
Vietnam has been at peace for 30 years. Those interested in the wars in Vietnam can learn more about them in museums and books. Several places and historic sites are worth the visit (Dien Bien Phu, Cu Chi).
Someone who always smiles at you is not necessarily your friend… Remember appearances count for a lot in this country.
Do not hesitate to repeat and make others repeat to ensure both parties are on the same wavelength.
Cultural Information - About the Cultural Interpreters
The cultural interpreter is a Vietnamese Canadian. He was born and raised in Hanoi, Vietnam. He studied international relations, law, management, public administration and policy analysis in Vietnam, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and Canada. He has travelled to over forty countries and earned 25 years of professional experience working for business enterprises, academia, non-governmental organizations, governmental agencies and international organizations, in Vietnam and Canada. He speaks English, Vietnamese, French, Russian and Chinese Mandarin. He currently works as a policy analyst for a federal department of the Canadian government.
After my Engineering Studies at the École Polytechnique de Montréal, I began a career in international development. I have over 36 years of experience within Canada and throughout the world working for the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) which is headquartered in Ottawa.
As a volunteer in the Republic of the Comores (1978–1981) and as a regional director in West Africa based in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (2004–2009), I have held a variety of positions: Teacher (Comores and Benin—1987-89); Country Director responsible for programs (Gabon—1982-85, Vietnam—1996–2001, Burkina Faso); Project Manager and Programs Director in Canada until 2014. I managed development projects subsidized by the Department of Global Affairs as well as more than 1000 Canadian volunteers and employees in Canada and in developing countries.
Since 2014, I have been working as a consultant in international development and have undertaken short missions (less than six months) in South Sudan and Sri Lanka.
I worked in Vietnam from 1996 to 2001 as a Director of English and French instruction programs (foreign languages) and Tourism. I coordinated the recruitment, mobilization and coaching of about 200 Canadian volunteers working in different universities and departments around the country. In this way, I was able to familiarize myself with the culture and working habits of the Vietnamese.
Country Insights - Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.
You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.
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The official language of Spain is Castilian (Castellano), however, it is important to keep in mind that Castilian is not the only language spoken in Spain. There are a number of different languages and dialects that are spoken throughout the various regions of Spain, four of which are co-official languages (Catalan, Basque, Galician, and Valencian. Catalan, a romance language, is primarily spoken within the region of Catalonia where it is the co-official language and is the official language of Andorra. Basuqe is the co-official language of the Basque Country in the north-eastern region of Spain. There have been a number of different hypotheses of acout the origins of the language, but it still has no proven connection to any other language. Galician is the co-official language of Galicia which is in the north-western region of Spain. It has been suggested that Galician and Portuguese have similar roots, the reason being that Portuguese originated in Galicia and northern Portugal. Valencian is the co-official language of the autonomous region of Valencia which is located on the east of Spain along the coast. Valencian is a dialect of Catalan but is perceived as a completely different language by many Valencianos. Spain is a very culturally proud nation and there is a very strong connection between language and cultural identity in all these regions in Spain. Although these different languages are quite prominent within their respective regions, all Spaniards speak the national Castilian language and foreign students using it will not have any problems with communication.
Spain offers a wide array of dishes each of which is influenced by the country's numerous cultural influences: Roman, Christian, Jewish, and Moorish. There are numerous foods that can be found throughout the country including: tortilla española (potato omelette), paella (a rice dish), jamón serrano (a type of cured ham), various cheeses, chorizo and morcilla (sausages), churros, flan, and magdalenas (madeleines or muffins). However, the country's cuisine also varies by its 19 regions and is indicative of the geography and culture of each. Students will have the culinary opportunity to experience typical Spanish cuisine as well as those that are indicative of the particular region in which they are studying and/or traveling.
The concept of personal space is different in Spain. Hugs and kisses are common, including when meeting people for the first time. When passing locals in the street, don't be surprised if eye contact is made but no smile or greeting is exchanged.
Rhythm of Life
Spaniards typically live a much slower paced life, when compared to other countries such as the U.S. Normally, breakfast is light and consists of a cup of coffee with milk, hot chocolate, and a pastry or toast. Around mid-morning, Spaniards typically take a "coffee break" to sip on a freshly squeezed glass of orange juice or a cup of coffee. Lunch is the most important, and heaviest, meal of the day and is typically eaten between 2PM and 4PM. During the hours of 2PM-5PM many small businesses will close for workers to go home and eat lunch with their family, this break is known as the siesta. Dinner is eaten between 9PM-11PM and is typically much lighter and is not as important in Spain as it is in other countries, such as the U.S. Commuting between housing and school will be a part of your daily routine, so be prepared to walk everywhere or use public transportation!
Spaniards generally live in smaller apartments, or pisos, instead of houses as Americans do. These apartments are compact but comfortable. You may expect to find smaller appliances (i.e. washers, dishwashers and refrigerators) and smaller living accommodations, closet space, beds, showers and tubs than in the U.S. Space heaters and fans are widely used as central air is not as common in Spain. Clothes lines and drying racks are widely used in Spain, especially in the South, and you will find clothes dryers to be less common. Also, many families shop for meals daily vs. weekly.
The Spaniards are well known for their fiestas! In every town and village in Spain at some point during the year there is a unique festival which brings all the residents together. Although most festivals have religious origins, Spaniards take the art of celebration very seriously with festivities which include costumes, traditional dance, sharing of large meals, and celebrating until the very wee hours of the morning! Each major city in Spain has a number of different regional festivals depending on the time of year. It is highly recommended that you familiarize yourself with the celebrations that will be going on during your time abroad in order to not miss out on one of these fantastically exciting cultural events!
Students will be given the opportunity to meet local and international students wishing to share their knowledge of Spanish and learn English in exchange. This activity, based on student interest, is a great way to get to know other students of Madrid, and share your culture and language with others while learning more about your surroundings and Spanish student counterparts!
While there is no structured volunteer program offered, any student truly interested in volunteering while in Madrid can work with the ISA Madrid staff to find different opportunities. Students simply present different organizations or areas that interest them and the Madrid staff can help you figure out how to get involved.
ISA Student Blog
Stay connected while you're abroad and share your experience with your peers back home on the ISA Student Blog, one of WordPress' top 23 recommended travel blogs! Each summer and semester the ISA Student Blog features current ISA students as bloggers, photo bloggers, and video bloggers who document their time abroad to share with their friends, family, prospective students, advisers, and more. If sharing your study abroad experience through writing, photos, videos and other media while receiving professional guidance and feedback appeals to you, consider applying to be an ISA Featured Blogger, Photo Blogger, or Video Blogger. The Site Specialist for your program will email all accepted students to notify you when ISA is accepting applications for all ISA Featured Blogger programs. Please contact the ISA Blog Team at email@example.com if you have any questions.
We also suggest you check out the plethora of other cultural blogs available on the web to learn more about others' experiences in Madrid, cultural happenings, and expat lives.
See some of the most famous Spanish masterpieces of artists like Picasso, Velazquez, and el Greco, in the enormous Prado, Reina Sofia, or Thyssen-Bornemiza Museums.
Visit the ancient neighborhood of Madrid, La Latina, where every Sunday you will encounter the gigantic "Rastro" flea market and find some rare treasures.
Hang out in the picturesque Plaza Mayor, eating some traditional Spanish food and observing some local street performers.
Puerta del Sol
Stand on "Kilometro 0," the direct center of the city at the Puerta del Sol metro stop, and wander the diverse neighborhoods that surround it.
Madrid has a vast array of activities for international visitors to enjoy. Listed below are some different cultureal activities to do while in Madrid. You can do many of these activities on your own, with friends, or they may be sponsored by ISA. Upon arrival to Madrid, different sponsored cultureal activities will be announced troughout your program abroad.
Take a tour of the Royal Palace and see its innate architecture that has been compared to that of Versailles.
Parque del Retiro
Spend a day basking in the Spanish sun, taking a row boat on the lake, or just strolling with the locals in the Retiro Park.
Cheer with the Spaniards at one of the infamous Real Madrid soccer games.
Get an aerial view of the city when you take a ride in Madrid's teleferico, a gondola ride that takes you from the city center, over the banks of the Manzanares River, and over Madrid's incredible Casa del Campo Park.
Buenos días. Good morning.
Buenas tardes. Good afternoon.
Buenas noches. Good evening.¿Cómo se llama? What is your name? (formal)
¿Cómo te llamas? What is your name? (informal)
Mucho gusto/Encantado. Nice to meet you.Me gustaría... I'd like to order... (in a restaurant)
¡Salud! Cheers!/Bless you! (after a sneeze)
Online Dictionary Resource
We suggest you look up some helpful websites dedicated to verb conjugations in Spanish.
Listening & Speaking
Check out some different Spanish podcasts available to practice your verbal and listening skills.
Beware of translation websites...much can be LOST in translation!