If you are a Black person, your experience is going to look different than someone without that identity. To give you a framework for approaching this exciting time, here are four things you need to know if you’re a Black person studying abroad in Spain.
- Prepare to not see many other Black people while abroad. I knew that the majority of Spain was caucasian but I wasn’t aware of how disproportionate the numbers were in contrast to the US. In America, about 1.3 in every 10 people (or 13%) are black. However, in Spain, only 1 in every 40 people (0.25%) is black. That’s quite a difference. I can count with one hand the number of times I saw a black couple or family.
- Don’t be offended if people stare. Or, try not to. I’ll admit this one took the most time getting used to. In America, staring is considered rude and generally frowned upon. In Spain, it is common and they typically don’t smile. I’m also a habitual smiler so that was surprising as well. It’s not intended to be hostile but it can a little jarring if you’re not accustomed to it.
- Ladies: You will get lots of attention due to your hair. This is especially true if it is natural or in a protective style. Be prepared for people to stare at, comment on, and try to touch your hair. They’ve likely never seen anything like it before so they’re just curious and not trying to be rude. However, if you’re not comfortable with people touching it, just smile and politely say “No lo toques, por favor” (don’t touch it, please). Take it in stride and know your boundaries.
- Bring a washcloth! This is something slightly random, but important nonetheless. Using washcloths to shower and wash your face is a common practice in black households. However, newsflash: The majority of Spain is not black. That being said, it’s highly unlikely that hotels, your homestay, or many stores will have them. If you’re used to using washcloths and want to continue to do so abroad, your best bet is to bring a few from the States. I wish someone had told me this before I hopped on my flight because ya girl had no clue! If you do happen to be clueless like I was and arrive in Spain washcloth-less, don’t fret. Purchase a full-sized towel and just cut it into pieces that you can use and then throw away when your time abroad is up.
Studying abroad is all about interacting with those different from you and adapting to new situations.
While being such a small minority while abroad can have its challenges, it is so rewarding to embrace your identity in a different space. And the more minorities that go abroad, the more visibility we will get and the more contact we will make in an effort to create a more inclusive world.