7 Things African American Students Should Know When Traveling to Barcelona
If you’re an African American studying abroad, you’re already a minority. It’s a whole new story when you get to your study abroad destination. Here are 7 things you need to know as an African American study abroad student.
You Will Still be the Minority
African Americans make up 46.8 million of the 323 million people in the United States. We are still clearly part of the minority. In Spain, especially Barcelona, African Americans make up an even bigger minority percentage.
Overall, be prepared to not see many people that look like you. Depending on the time of the year, Barcelona can vary with how busy it gets. During those busy months, you might see more African Americans because with more people visiting that could mean there is a more diverse group of tourists visiting.
It Will be a Culture Shock
The culture of Barcelona is different from American culture when it comes to non-personal communication and their idea of personal space and time. Unlike Americans, Spaniards from Barcelona (also known as Catalonians) tend to stare at people in public and they do not smile at people on the street unless they know them. In America these mannerisms could be seen as rude but in Barcelona that is normal and part of their culture.
Personal space is not a huge issue in Barcelona, most people are comfortable being next to strangers in a tight area, and they don’t think much of it. That doesn’t mean they will be all up on you standing in line however, depending on where you are in Barcelona and if you’re in a small space they might be closer than what you’re use to in America.
My advice: just try to move up a little bit if you’re feeling comfortable, don’t say anything if you don’t have to because again this is a cultural difference, they don’t see anything that is wrong with what they are doing.
Time is also not a huge issue with Catalonians. The expression, “Americans live to work compared to other countries that work to live,” definitely applies in Barcelona. Catalonians don’t rush when it comes to eating, basically anywhere they go from a café to an actual restaurant they will be dining and taking their time. Businesses operate on hours we’re not used to: closed on Sunday, even small grocery stores and small businesses (though not usually chain stores) close for about 2 hours every day for lunch which can be anywhere between 1PM and 5PM.
Wear a Protective Hairstyle For the Weather
Barcelona has a relatively mild climate, it borders a Mediterranean climate by being in between mountains and an ocean. This means cool winters and hot summers. There aren’t usually any extreme temperatures throughout the seasons. The winter months average 50 degrees F with dry air and the summer months average 75 degrees F with dry air. The dry heat can make it feel like it is hotter than it actually is and for African American women specifically, dry heat means that the sun will drain your hair of all its moisture. Wearing natural hair is fine as long as you are consistently putting moisturizer on it. But I would not recommend even bothering straightening your real hair especially if you are walking around, you will sweat and it will revert back to its natural state.
My advice: wear your hair in a protective hairstyle like braids, a wig or a weave.
Be Modest: Don’t Wear Flashy or Revealing Clothes
Barcelona overall has a lot of poverty and homelessness. You are going to be in a foreign country that you probably don’t know that much about. This means it is crucial to not bring too much attention to yourself. By wearing expensive clothing and wearing designer or even revealing too much of yourself in public, you will become a target to pickpocketers and unfortunately men who are a lot more forward.
Women in Barcelona usually dress modestly. There are not as many African American women as there are other races of women in Barcelona and there is a stigma about African American women that we are exotic, this comes from France, where they are quite a few African women that tend to be revealing with their clothing. It has unfortunately become a stereotype for us in Barcelona, my friends and I experienced that first hand.
Bring Plenty of Money for Food, You’ll Want Seconds
The food in Barcelona is one of the main highlights of the entire trip. Food in Barcelona is extremely flavorful, it isn’t usually spicy (even though you can make it spicy if you want to), but instead it has a variety of different herbs and mild spices. The location of Barcelona has definitely helped with this, being in between mountains and the sea it has provided very flavorful meat and a variety of different fish and seafood. They also have great weather for farming which provides a lot of grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables. No matter if you eat a combination of foods or are a vegetarian or a vegan there will be plenty of food options for you to choose from.
Watch out for Pickpockets: Be Mindful of Your Surroundings and Keep Your Belongings in Front of You
Barcelona is the pickpocketing capital of the world, It is important to know this. Being African American, we are already going to stand out from everyone in Barcelona and many people are going to assume we are tourists. Tourists are the ones that are usually targeted for pickpocketing.
My advice: keep your wallet in your jacket pocket if it zips or in your front pocket, never in your back pocket! And for women, you should carry a cross body purse that has a metal strap so it can’t be cut, and make sure your purse is always in front of you.
Wherever You Go, Go With Confidence & Have Fun
Even though many locals are going to know or assume you are a tourist, walk around with confidence! If you know Spanish or want to get better at it, speak Spanish as much as you can. Locals appreciate it when you try and speak their language, it would be even better if you could try and learn a few phrases in Catalan since that is their native language, but speaking in Spanish is great as well. Barcelona is a beautiful city with amazing food, people, culture, and exhibits, as long as you stay safe you are going to have an amazing time!
Marisa Conway is a Senior CEA Alumni Ambassador. She studied abroad in Barcelona in the summer of 2017 and she is currently a senior studying Communications Studies at Towson University.