Diversity Abroad

Katrina Matthews-Mcgann
October 15, 2016

I think it’s time I address one of the more serious topics of studying abroad here in Spain: diversity. I am very happy to report that, so far, my experience as a person of color in Spain has been pretty great. Seriously. The people here are incredibly kind and welcoming, albeit a bit reserved when you first approach them. The greatest, most refreshing part of studying here has been being treated like any other person. Let me explain.

In the United States, as an African-American female, I can’t help but feel different. I’m from Oregon and before that, Utah, which in my opinion, are two of the whitest states in the country. Growing up as a person of color, I was acutely aware of the differences between myself (my family, my culture, my background) and that of my non-black counterparts. It’s kind of a difficult feeling to describe if you haven’t lived your life feeling this way. Let’s say, for example, you’re invited to a polka dot themed party but you didn’t know the theme was polka dots. You walk in and see everyone wearing their finest polka dot attire but you’re wearing stripes. Now, in theory, you’re all the same because you’ve all been invited to the same party, know all the same people, and are all prepared to have a good time. But in practice, you can’t help but feel a little weird because there are just so many more people wearing polka dots and sometimes they look at you funny because you’re not wearing the same thing as them.

Here in Salamanca, I feel like anybody else. The majority of the population is (basically), white but I don’t feel like too much of an outsider because (and remember, this is my personal impression) they seem to be able to look over the fact that I’m wearing stripes and they’re wearing polka dots and see that we’re all at the same party. When I walk into a shop with my friends the cashier doesn’t suddenly leave their post to check on some non-existent issue that happens to be in the same aisle as the one I’m in. I’m not stared at when I walk down the street and my professors don’t sneak glances at me whenever they broach any topic on race.

And then there are the police.

One of the things I like best about Spain, and Europe in general, is that guns here are not commonplace items. Firearms are not something citizens are allowed to have, only the police carry them. Given the current state of race relations in the United States, I’d be lying if I said I don’t tense up a little whenever I see a police officer patrolling the streets with a firearm at their side. There’s always that thought in the back of my mind, no matter how hard I try to squash the fear, that if I look even the tiniest bit suspect, if I move too suddenly, if I say the wrong thing, I’ll end up pushed against the wall with a gun pointed at my head. Really, I try very hard to put my faith in law enforcement officers, especially in the U.S. I know not all of them are racist. I know not all of them will use the slightest provocation to use lethal force on a person of color. I know this. But there have been too many incidences where this has been the case that the fear of being assaulted/killed by the police has become very real and very valid for many, many people.

So real is this fear that it seems to have traveled with me over an entire continent/ocean. But I guess this is the point I’m trying to make. The more time I spend here, the safer I feel despite my long-lived experiences back home. I don’t feel weird or more at risk because of my stripes. I just feel like I’m here, trying to enjoy the party like everyone else.

Now, I know this isn’t a perfect world. I’m definitely not saying that there aren’t undercurrents of racism flowing through the back parts of Spanish society or that everyone here is a completely enlightened individual incapable of even perceiving a racist thought. All I’m saying is that my personal experience has led me to feel a lot safer and a lot more welcome walking the streets of Spain than I would feel if I were back in the United States.

So! If you’re a person of color, and you’re debating whether or not to study abroad in terms of diversity/safety know that I think you should do it. The most important thing to realize is that the people are going to be different no matter where you end up. Things good be worse (let’s be honest, it’s a possibility), but, I sincerely hope and believe, that things could be good too and that you’ll have an amazing experience no matter where you go. 

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Katrina Matthews-Mcgann

<p>I&#39;m a third year college student excited about seeing everything this amazing planet has to offer. Originally from Oregon, I&#39;ve slowly been finding my place in the world through travels throughout North America, China, and now Europe! I hope this blog offers advice, inspiration, and a bit of humor for any current and future travelers.</p>

2016 Fall
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Pomona College
International Relations
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