During my virtual orientation for IES Abroad, one of the first things that I noticed was that I was one of the only people of color, let alone one of the only Asian people on the program. Having been from a small suburban high school and from attending a small PWI for college, I was used to being one of the only Asians in class. Nevertheless, I constantly wondered what my experience would look like in Madrid and how it would differ from my white peers.
To be entirely candid, while there is diversity, the majority of people I have interacted with in Madrid are white. I knew that this would be the case but I wondered if my experience would be different from how it would be back home. Back in the U.S., I was used to getting stares from random strangers and having some people assume that I don’t speak English even though I was born and raised in a New York suburb. In my experience, I have found that racism, while very much still present, has been different here (disclaimer: my experience is my own and is not representative of every Asian-American person’s experience).
Yes, there are still stares from people on the metro and a multitude of people who assume I don’t speak Spanish (and some who assume I don’t speak English). However, I have found that the majority of people are more curious rather than acting out of malicious intent. Some have asked me why I started to learn Spanish and why I chose to come to Spain. Of course, everyone’s experience will differ but I have found most people are just curious about why an Asian person would want to study abroad in Madrid.
While these conversations about racism are important, I also want to focus on some other aspects of being Asian-American abroad. For one, I believe it is important to recognize that homesickness will look different. I miss my family and friends first and foremost, but a close second is definitely Asian food. While not impossible to find, I have found that it is generally difficult to get Asian food in Madrid. There are some good restaurants but even then, it can get expensive. My advice is, if possible, try to cook Asian food. There are quite a few Asian supermarkets (especially in the center of Madrid- more specifically, Plaza de España) that have relatively cheaper ingredients.
Another big thing for me is imposter syndrome. There are many times where I feel guilty about studying abroad and question if I deserve to be here. My parents, having immigrated from Hong Kong, never had the opportunity to study abroad so there was definitely a sense of guilt about that. We try to call at least once a week but even then, there’s a sense of wondering whether or not I made the right decision.
My biggest piece of advice to anyone considering/studying abroad currently, especially those who are Asian-American, is that you deserve to be here. You worked hard to get here and even if your experience isn’t like that of your peers, as long as you can make it meaningful for you, that is more than enough. To my fellow Asian-Americans, our experience may look different in terms of culture, sense of belonging, food, etc., but that’s ok. There is no one way to “study abroad” and I think it’s important that this time abroad is meaningful to us. :)
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My name is Jacob and I am a current junior at Haverford College. I love all things related to learning about different cultures whether it be food, language, customs, etc. In my free time, you can typically find me playing video games, listening to music, or just spending time with friends!