Black in Spain back in the day – Parte Uno

It’s been 11 years since I studied abroad at the University of Valencia in Spain, but since then I’ve been meaning to write about it cuz boy, was it was somthin’. I regret not writing about it sooner. Here goes.

So there I was, trying to secure my second undergraduate degree, this time for Spanish for International Business. This was a part of my self-discovery journey that just so happened to coincide with a portion of my best friend’s Valencia trip to visit her husband’s family. PERFECT! Or so I thought… I was not seeing the full picture because she would be there for just a couple of weekends. I, on the other hand, would be there for the rest of the summer.

Georgia State University has a Study Abroad Office that has minority scholarships to encourage  diversity in their study abroad program enrollment. Not many black folks did so at the time – especially not black American students. Free money to travel? Ok. I was in.

I wasn’t exactly rolling in the dough at the time. I had a little in savings, and I was taking sabbatical from my job – which meant a lot of free time that came with no paychecks. Oh well, I thought to myself, this opportunity has my name written all over it, so it has to work out. And on top of that, someone I knew offered me a GREAT deal on a buddy pass. That sealed the deal. Que viva Espana – this black girl was going to Spain!

I’m pictured here on my first day in Valencia – exploring with new friends.

I was one of the first in my group to arrive to the Madrid airport. I’ll never forget. So accustomed to the air conditioned airports of the US, I inhaled warm stale air that smelled of people and food. I was there super early because there were plenty of seats available for flights departing for Spain because of the huge US airport market. This was unlike Spain where droves of people exited the country in the summers and flights were often overbooked. Anywho, I was in Madrid and I immediately felt the weight of being a foreigner. Cool. I waited for 4 hours in baggage claim until I saw a short gentleman with a sign that read ISA (International Studies Abroad), the name of my study abroad company. I greeted him in English, and he responded in Spanish and let me know that my English needed to stay in the airport. Slowly, new faces accumulated around me. Kids from all over the United States. No one from Georgia. Also, I was beginning to notice that no one was black, which was nothing new for me.

However, the Madrid airport was peppered with voices speaking in various languages and all kinds of skin tones and hair types. After everyone arrived, the ISA leader took us to a chartered bus. YAS! I remember thinking: This is the life. The study abroad rep’s call to us was “Wakey Wakey, Eggs and Bakey” even when it wasn’t morning. It was to get our attention. He explained that we would stay in Madrid for just the next day to see the Prado, and after that we’d hop back on the bus for a 4 hour long trek en route to Valencia. He said that not many spoke English and that we should follow suit. **To be continued…

Written by Aryeonne Johnson