CIS Abroad Blog

Being a First-Gen Black Student in Spain | Student Blog from Barcelona

The Parent Pitch

When presenting to my parents the idea of doing a semester abroad in Barcelona, I only expected the worst.

Their instant approval shocked me. My parents were excited I was able to have this opportunity that they never had and never would have. They work long, painstaking hours to make sure that my two brothers and I are well taken care of.

With the help of financial aid and scholarships, this was a cheap, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I got to embark on. Knowing that they could live vicariously through me with my photos and detailed descriptions of everywhere I traveled to within Europe had my parents basically shoving me out of the door to leave.

It all seemed fine and dandy until the culture shock of being a Black student in Spain completely hit me.

Culture Shock: Being a Black Student in Spain

Where can I get my hair done?

Wilnyde, being a black student in Spain blog post

Let me just start off by saying the biggest panic I’ve had, and any Black woman who is reading this will understand the struggle, is finding someone who can do my hair. Although YouTube has been my best friend, I just recently found a Black-owned beauty salon in Barcelona! There IS hope!!!

Black in a sea of white faces

Now comes the panic that came and never left. Speaking another language at home slightly prepared me for the obstacles I would be facing. But it wasn’t until I got off the plane – and the flight attendant spoke to all the white and white-passing folks in Spanish, but paused to talk to me in English – that I realized how different I looked from everyone else. It was the first time in many years that I was uncomfortable being in my brown skin.

Wilnyde, being a black student in Spain blog post

In Spain, almost everyone is white. I am ashamed to say that I still, to this day, will get secondhand embarrassment seeing that the only people of color in the streets are the ones selling fake Adidas, Nikes, Louis Vuitton bags. So real-looking that it makes you look twice.

These street vendors speak Spanish with a thick accent, making it evident that they have emigrated from Africa. Witnessing the way that they are spoken to, in such degrading ways, makes me wonder, “What do they think of me?”

I constantly have to remind myself that Spain is not as diverse as the United States. And it’s definitely not as diverse as Boston. Having to make this mental note multiple times a day can be very exhausting.

Sometimes racism comes from ignorance

I’m lucky enough to say that I have not experienced any type of discrimination because of my race. But I do acknowledge both implicit and explicit prejudice within others.

After correcting my host mom about a misconception she had about Black people, I later learned that sometimes this racism IS NOT racism. It is pure ignorance.

Wilnyde, being a black student in Spain blog post

Thinking the whole country is against you seems like an easy option. But assimilating is the most progressive and helpful option. Also, practicing Spanish with locals at clubs on the weekends has made me feel included and welcomed.  

The Bottom Line: It Gets Easier

For students of color studying abroad, and any Black students in Spain: It does get easier. Confidence and an ability to look at life through a different lens are important tools that will help you tackle any obstacle that comes your way.

Interested in studying in Spain like Wilnyde?

Learn about all our program offerings in Barcelona and Madrid.

Looking for more resources about being Black and abroad?

Check out this organization.

Need help talking to your parents about studying abroad?

Read our blog post: The Parent Pitch: How to talk to your family about Studying/Interning Abroad