Suppose you took a road trip across Spain. You'd drive past an impressive array of geography—wild rivers, cliffs towering above the ocean, metropolitan cities, beachy resort towns, mountain ranges, arid plateaus, lush valleys. For a country that can fit inside the United States 19 times, Spain certainly rivals the U.S.'s topographic diversity.

In the past two months, as I've explored this patchwork of lands, it's become clear to me that Spain is so much more than its stereotype of bullfights, flamenco dancers and sangria. Just as its terrain changes drastically from one region to the next, so do its people and their cultures. Think about the various atmospheres around the U.S. In the south, Christianity is a way of life, sweet tea and collard greens deserve their own sections on the food pyramid, and friendliness is in a person's DNA. Hitch a ride up north and everything changes: the pace quickens, voices get louder while patience wears thinner. Fly to the West Coast and the ambiance is laid-back, everyone seems to hike or surf, and organic kale is a kitchen staple.

Yet as I've traveled around Spain, I've discovered that its regions vary even more than the U.S.'s. Like in the States, food changes from one area to the next: paella is a must in Valencia, Galicia is known for it pulpo (octopus) and Catalunya is infamous for crema catalana, a cinnamon creme brûlée. Yet, these are the minor distinctions amongst the provinces.

Travel north from Sevilla to San Sebastián and people are speaking a completely different language. A person who votes in Barcelona has a different array of political parties to choose from than a person in Bilbao. In the U.S., Southerners are recognized by their usage of y'all and citizens of Chicago by their request for "pop" but despite these varying dialects, everyone speaks the same language. In the American elections, red states vote Republican, blue states vote Democrat and swing states are a toss-up but ultimately, all electors choose between the same parties. If the U.S. is divided by its colors, Spain is divided by the foundations—political, historical, linguistic—of what make each area so distinct from the next.

Giles Tremlett, the author of “The Ghosts of Spain,” referred to Spain, with its dramatically different regions, as "schizophrenic." He also said of Spain and its provinces: "It is a state that contains—or, even, imposes its will on—several other nations."

Why is it that Spain harbors a more divided nation than the U.S., when it is only 1/19 of the size? Richard Ford, a traveler in Spain during the 1800s, wrote in “Gatherings From Spain” that "The chains of mountains which intersect the whole peninsula, and the deep rivers which separate portions of it" act as "walls and moats, by cutting off inter-communication." Only in the last century did Spain finally connect these walls and moats—unifying much of it—via a high speed train system (the longest in Europe) and tunnels that broke through the impenetrable Sierra de Guadarrama mountains. Today, parts of Spain still lack the high-speed train and thus remain more rural than others—namely, Galicia, a region at the northwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula.

Let's suppose you take that road trip through Spain, beginning in Galicia—you may as well be in Ireland. It's full of rolling emerald hills, cliffs that jut above the Atlantic and a persistent rain. In Santiago de Compostela, bagpipes can be heard on the cobblestone streets as pilgrims from all over the world arrive at la Catedral de Santiago. For hundreds of years, Christians have hiked from France, Portugal and other areas of Spain to see the tomb of St. James the Great, inside Santiago's magnificent cathedral. Galician traditions are steeped with Celtic influences and superstition—Galicia isn't known as Tierra de Miegas (Land of the Witches) for nothing. When I was there a few weeks back, proud Galician locals brewed me an alcoholic drink called Queimada, which supposedly wards off evil spirits. They poured alcohol and a bunch of fruits into a bowl and lit it on fire, while chanting a spell in their native Galego—a language spoken by 3 million Galicians, which sounds halfway between Spanish and Portuguese.

As your road trip continues eastward, you eventually wind up in the Basque Country to the left of France. Like Galicia, there are bright green hills and sparkling blue water—this time the Bay of Biscay. The Basque people also have their own regional language—Euskera—which is the oldest language in Europe and believed to be descended from the cave people. Around 33 percent of Basque people speak Euskera and it can be seen written on road signs, maps and various other objects. The Basque people pride themselves on their delectable cuisine. Bar hopping for pinxtos—the Basque version of tapas—is world famous in the city of San Sebastián. Squid, steak, olives, eggs, you-name-it can be found in this town with the second-most Michelin Star restaurants per square meter.

Drive through the Pyrenees mountains and you arrive in Catalunya—the land of castles. Once again, it's completely different from Galicia and the Basque Country. Barcelona is its crown jewel with Gaudi's whimsical architecture and France's art nouveau influences evident throughout the city. Glitzy yachts grace the Mediterranean harbor in the summer and people of every ethnic group crowd the streets. Catalonians chatter away in Catalan, the region-specific language. Spoken by some 9.5 million people, this unique Romance language is the pride and joy of Catalonians, especially because it was banned during General Franco's Fascist rule in the 20th century.

The more you travel around Spain, the more you realize how much more it has to offer beyond bullfights, flamenco and sangria. We wouldn't like it if all foreigners thought of the U.S. was New York City, New Jersey and Los Angeles—like The New Yorker once illustrated—because there is so much more to our country than just those cities. It's a dangerous concept to think of a nation as its stereotype—not only is it narrow-minded but it causes one to lose out on all the other wonderful experiences a place can offer. Perhaps that's why study abroad is so encouraged; it's harder to understand the complexity of a country when you only have a week to spend there. However, with four months in a foreign place, it's much easier to unravel the hidden gems of a culture.

Katherine Berko is a Trinity junior studying abroad in Madrid. Her column, "how in the world," runs on alternate Thursdays.