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Did I give Spain culture shock?

Filed in Blog, Spain by on October 25, 2018
by Abigail P.

As I walk through the streets of Seville, I can feel the stares seeping into my dark skin like the sun that was soaking into my melanin. The stares weren’t unnoticed, and I wondered why they were so persistent. “Nobody has seen hair like yours,” my host mom would tell me as I took down my faux locs in the house after piling them on my head all day to keep cool. “There are not very many people that look like you out here,” she would tell me as I explain to her the story of a group of kindergarten aged kids smiling and waving at me like fans getting a glimpse of their favorite celebrity walking by. In class, as we talked about cultural norms, I asked my teacher why Spaniards stare. She would tell me that it is not a cultural norm to stare, and in all my frustration in trying to figure this out, I yell, “Well they stare at me! Maybe it’s because I’m black!” “You think we’ve never seen black people before?” At that statement, I felt like nobody in the room could or would ever understand me. Maybe it was unconscious, maybe it wasn’t.

Student posing in front of big tree with bright and pale pink flowers.

Initially, I tried to blend in like our study abroad program managers told us we should. About two weeks in, I realized that might be a bit harder for me.

But I couldn’t think of what caused me to stand out despite that fact. “Morena guapa!” From the stores in the streets of Cadiz, two weeks into my time in Spain, I cringe at the phrase. “Pretty black girl!” is what it translates to. I saw it coming, I just didn’t know when. But at this point in my trip, I realize that a lot of people mean no harm. I am different. Everywhere I go I am different. We go to other countries to learn about their culture. They make it easy because, especially compared to big cities in the United States, not every country is a melting pot. Experiences such as these make me feel different, but they have taught me to appreciate my differences whether others are or are not. At some point in our lives, it’s important to have experiences such as these. It has allowed me to be able to step into the shoes of those who may not look like me or speak the same language as me. It has sparked an interest to learn about different cultures because a lot of the stares and glances are because some people may not have had the opportunity to. After opening my eyes to the positives of being different, I have aspired to learn about those who are different than me, and that has made me excited for the side trips that I have planned for these next few months to countries like Italy, France, Portugal and the Netherlands. ¡Hasta luego!

Student standing in front of Roman museum in Cadiz

Posing in front of the Roman museum.

Hands of students wearing matching bracelets.

I found a few friends within the first month of being in Spain that came from all around the world…Colombia, the Caribbean, the U.S., Mexico, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Britain and many more! The list goes on, but I soon came to realize that we are all unique in our own way.

About the blogger

Abigail P. is studying abroad on the CIEE: International Business and Culture in Seville in Seville, Spain.

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