When preparing to study abroad, you have to understand that there will be major cultural differences. The lifestyle abroad will differ tremendously from what you've always known, and even when you think you've done your research, surprises could get thrown at you. 

I studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain for a semester and thought I was prepared for everything. I was ready for endless ham, bread, and wine, but I definitely wasn't prepared for anything else.

Breakfast is not an important meal in Spain.

This was devastating to me. Especially living with a host-family, there wasn't much I could do about it. I went from eating eggs and avocado toast every morning in the U.S. to eating one or two slices of toast and a cup of tea. Normally in Spain, a traditional breakfast consists of a "tostada" covered with a tomato spread or olive oil, accompanied by a warm cup of "café con leche". Olive oil is extremely popular and important in Spanish culture because of the abundance of olive farms and fields throughout the country. 

Lunch is the biggest meal of the day. 

Lisa DeMoranville

With such a small breakfast, this was easy to get used to. Everyone's day revolves around lunch. Most stores close around 2 PM and don't open back up until after 5 PM so that people can go home to enjoy a nice family lunch and a siesta. People take this time to go out for tapas or a drink and unwind before they have to resume their day. 

Dinner is never eaten before 9 p.m.

Although this was something I was prepared for, I never got used to doing it. Especially with the host-family I was living with, the majority of the time we ate dinner after 10 p.m. My host-mother always asked me why Americans ate so early, because eating dinner at 5 or 6 at night is not normal to them. Even going out to eat, restaurants didn't tend to open until 8:30 pm. Nevertheless, I was always excited to eat dinner! 

Tapas, tapas, tapas.

Lisa DeMoranville

In certain regions of Spain, tapas are the traditional way of eating. For those of you who don't know what tapas are, they are basically small dishes that you can pick at and share with the table rather than ordering an individual meal. I personally love this style of eating, not only because they are delicious but also because they are affordable. Eating tapas allows you to try multiple different dishes and still save a significant amount of money. When traveling or studying abroad, this is a huge plus. 

They ban certain additives and preservatives.

This was huge. In the United States, you can look at a food label for a bag of candy or a bottle of soda and feel like you're reading gibberish because of all the additives that are put into certain foods. In Spain, and the majority of Europe, they have made it illegal to use certain additives and preservatives that are legal here in the U.S. This made a huge difference, not only in the things I chose to eat, but in the way I felt when eating them. I always knew everything listed on the nutrition label, and that made a huge difference in my diet and the things I was willing to eat.

Churros are important. 

In Seville, there was a churro stand on every corner. The crunchy sticks of fried dough were paired with a hot cup of chocolate to dip them in, making it basically impossible to resist. This is something you don't see much in the United States, but that's what made it special. If I'm ever craving Chocolate con Churros, I guess I'll just have to go back! 

Olives and olive oil. 

Julia Portnoff

In America we are typically given a few pieces of bread with butter when you go out to restaurants, but in Spain you are given a small dish of olives to munch on. With Spain being 90% olive tree farms, its no surprise that they serve them so often. The olives are full of flavor and come in all different shapes and sizes, and no two olive oils taste the same. Most people in Spain are able to differentiate between different types of olives and olive oils. There is a whole science behind the way they are cultivated, resulting in different textures, colours, flavours and so on. You're very likely to have either olives or olive oil with each meal you eat, but don't expect any olive oil and vinegar to be served with your bread! 

Dietary restrictions are uncommon. 

Julia Portnoff

Although this is slowly changing and restaurants are beginning to include accommodating options, having dietary restrictions is a foreign concept in Spain, so to speak. Bad luck for any non-meat eaters, you'll find ham in almost every meal you eat. Being gluten-free might be even more problematic, because bread is eaten with every meal and food is religiously fried. It is so common in the United States to tell your server you're allergic to something or that you don't eat a certain type of food and to change the way the meal is prepped in order to accommodate your needs, but in Spain you'll have a tougher time doing it.

The beauty of traveling and being abroad is experiencing a different culture and appreciating what makes it unique. It was an adjustment to live in Spain and get used to their traditions, but I can't say I don't miss it. Trying different foods and learning about their culture was an experience I will never forget.