June 14, 2021
Checking in with a one month update on living as an expat in Barcelona, Spain! I can't believe it's already been a month - it feels like just yesterday I was stuck in a two day layover in Miami. *shudders*
But I made it! And having this time to center myself, get adjusted to my new job and this new city, and to try lots and lots of food, I'm excited to share my experience thus far.
In the Fall of 2020, I applied for a virtual internship program with the Intern Group, an organization that connects young professionals to careers all over the world. I was accepted to the programs in both Australia and Barcelona, but decided on taking the internship in Spain because I felt the opportunity aligned more with what I'd like to do in terms of my professional career.
Through another organization, NSHSS, I applied for a scholarship for the Intern Group, and was lucky enough to be one of their three winners! So, my virtual program was completely free. For the rest of 2020 and through early 2021, I worked with Broadcaster Media in Barcelona virtually from my home in Washington, DC. I gained a lot of experience, but I really wished I could be taking advantage of working in-person in an international environment for this company. And then, in Spring of 2021, my supervisor gave me some pretty exciting news:
They were filming a short docuseries in partnership with Disney this summer, and based on my work during the virtual internship, they wanted me on board as an assistant to the producer and marketing manager! I was at a complete loss for words, but one thing for sure was running through my mind: as great as this is, how in the world could I afford it?
I expressed my concerns, and within the week, my supervisor was contacting me again with a different offer: they'd pay for my Work Visa, flight, accommodation, and transportation to and from the office and shooting sites for the entire summer - all I had to do was hop on a flight and get there by May 1. Of course I said yes.
GETTING A JOB ABROAD
More often than not, the international company that hires you will pay for your Work Visa (this allows you to get paid a foreign currency and be on the payroll). If you have to apply for one yourself, you do it through your local government office or the same place you'd go to for your passport! If you want more resources on internships, jobs abroad, check out my database here!
If you've been following along on my Instagram, you know why I didn't get there on exactly May 1st. To catch you up:
But when they say 72 hours before departure, they mean exactly 72 hours before departure. I got my test at 10am on a Wednesday, but my flight left at 1pm on Friday. So, it was off by 3 hours. Yeah.
But because I had to retake the test, I missed my flight and had to reschedule for one later in the day. Because of that, instead of flying from DC, catching a connecting flight in Miami, and then heading to Barcelona all on the same day, I'd have to stay overnight in Miami and catch my connecting flight the next day. So, I was already a day behind for when I was supposed to arrive in Spain.
After spending an amazing day in Miami, I got to the airport 6 hours before my flight only to find out that it was cancelled. At the time, only one flight a day was heading from Miami to Barcelona...so I'd have to wait ANOTHER night in Miami before getting to Spain. Two days behind now, btw.
A girl really can't catch a break, huh? I arrived at the Miami airport 8 hours before my flight, because at this point, I wasn't playing games. And then, at the check-in desk, the lady tried to tell me I wasn't allowed to enter Spain. Huh? I have my work visa, documentation proving I'm there for work, my passport, proof of accommodation, valid negative PCR test (thank God it was still valid), Spanish Health form, and all she keeps saying is, "Americans can't travel to Spain."
THEN WHY DID THEY LET ME ON THE FLIGHT BACK IN DC???
We went back and forth for about an hour, and then she had me wait for another hour while she called the Spanish Embassy, her supervisor, some other random White Dude, and the other lady at the check-in desk next to her. They looked at my documents, tapped their computers, shrugged their shoulders, and finally called me up to the desk again.
"Never mind. You can go." Yeah. Thought so.
I made it through security with 40 minutes to spare before takeoff.
Whew! Made it. Getting through security at Barcelona was a breeze. They scanned my Health Form, I got my bags, and stepped out into the humid heat of the Spanish sun. It hadn't quite sunk in yet that I was in another country. After over a year of staying indoors, and having not been on a plane since 2019, it kinda felt like an out of body experience.
I found the private driver my job had hired to come pick me up (yes, I felt very fancy), and we headed to Barceloneta, Barcelona's beach neighborhood. I watched the palm trees whiz by and couldn't stop smiling to myself. I was really here! I'd made it!
We drove through the narrow streets of Barceloneta before stopping in front of my new home for the next few months - a pastel building, five minutes walking-distance from the beach. The steps were extremely narrow, and I could tell my driver secretly hated me because he had to carry my 50+ pound suitcase up four flights (yeah, my suitcase was overweight). The apartment itself is cute and modern, with beach-y decor, wood floors and a brick ceiling! The first impression was amazing, and I couldn't wait to start my life in Spain.
I soon realized that moving to a new country, solo, during a pandemic, was not going to be a perfect fairytale. I already had some experience living abroad from when I studied in Paris in 2018, but working abroad and studying abroad are two very different things.
Like when I arrived in Paris, my anxiety and stress was through the roof during those first weeks in Barcelona.
I was questioning if I'd made the right decision, and whether it would be acceptable to head home early instead of staying the entire summer.
This time, there was no roommate or fellow study abroad buddy to confide in, just friends and family that were now thousands of miles away with a 6 hour time difference to compete with. I was also extremely jet-lagged, and because of my getting held up in Miami, I didn't have a day to relax before heading to the office for my first day of work. And what a rush that was!
First off, I'll admit that the work is not overwhelming. Which was unexpected, because work in the Entertainment Industry in the US is constantly, GO GO GO! While here in Spain, it's been more like: "greetings, can you please point the camera this way? Can you go over the script with her? Would you like a coffee?" All in Spanish, of course. That's not to say that we don't get a lot of work done, but everything is so much more relaxed and flexible.
That said, the pandemic has definitely added a new layer to my abroad experience. When I first arrived in Barcelona, restrictions were still in place that had shops and restaurants closing at 5pm, and a curfew at 10pm. It made planning meals pretty difficult, and made me feel pretty confined to my apartment, alone, and unable to really get to know the city. It also meant that I was only coming into the office twice a week and working remotely the rest of the time, as filming was more sporadic and the schedule had to adhere to COVID restrictions. So it was hard to get to know my coworkers and feel like I was a part of the company. Luckily, those restrictions have since been lifted, and I've acclimated a lot more to the office and feel much more confident!
Having my accommodation and flight paid for has definitely made things a lot easier budget-wise. I have a monthly grocery budget, and aside from stress-ordering a lot of takeout my first week in Spain, I've been being pretty responsible.
Plus! Drinks here are only like 2-3 euros, you can get a full 3-course meal for 10-12 euros, I get paid biweekly, and my travel booking side business has been doing pretty well for me, too! With travel slowly picking up again, orders are rolling in for summer and fall of 2021! Since I've been able to save, it's allowed me to do some domestic travel here in Spain, like visiting Valencia or Madrid. As more of Europe opens for vaccinated travelers, I'm hoping to hit up Italy and would die to visit Paris again...
As you can guess, making any new connections amidst the pandemic is hard. Even when I was in the US, keeping up with friends was hard! So, imagine trying to do that in a foreign country...
When I was in Paris, I was constantly surrounded by fellow college students who were experiencing the city alongside me. Even though we were there to study, we all wanted to travel every weekend, go out, meet up with French students, go to events, and make the most of our time out there. I didn't fool myself into thinking this is what I'd get in Spain, as I knew it was a totally different situation. But I didn't account for how big of an impact COVID would have on my expectations of aquatinting with coworkers or getting to know the city.
It's so much harder to make the effort in getting to know people and go through the motions of work, only to come home and chill on the couch with some soup and Netflix (I ate canned soup for a good two weeks because I was too lazy to cook).
And as someone who touts herself as a proud solo traveler, I felt severe imposter syndrome since I wasn't enjoying myself the way I'd originally expected.
I was also extremely lonely - living at home during the pandemic, I was always right by my brother and parents, and my close friends were no more than a call away. Now, I was stuck at home in a foreign country I couldn't even really explore because if I was caught out after 10pm I'd get arrested.
I was also low-key annoyed that now I had to act like an "adult." With the added responsibility of having a job, I had to adapt a different mindset than the 19-year-old wide-eyed college student studying in Paris for the first time. Now, I was a 22-year-old college graduate working in Barcelona so she could pay for her next meal, which doesn't quite have the same ring to it.
But, after restrictions were lifted, things really started turning around for the better. I got used to my new job and coworkers, and I really love how flexible my schedule is. Coming in only two days a week means that I can work anywhere I want during my virtual days - so, like, I can take a train to Madrid, put in my hours for the day, and explore a new city! And I figured out fun ways to contact friends and family during the week, like having Netflix watch parties or FaceTiming my friend to watch him try and learn a TikTok dance. It's also forced me to be more open, and I've held conversations with strangers and made some meaningful connections! We love making friends in foreign countries.
And as there currently aren't any tourists in Spain due to the pandemic, I love feeling like a local and having the opportunity to experience the country without too much of a tourist's impression.
As Spain reopens for tourism on June 7th, I'm interested to see how the city will change! I'm sure it will be even more lively than it already is, and I'm excited to see what happens.
LOL I could do a whole post on this subject alone. But this is already getting pretty long, so I'll try and keep it short and to the point:
The amount of melanin in your skin should not prevent you from seeing the world.
As a people who were forcefully moved around, displaced, and kidnapped, it is our every right to travel wherever and whenever we please. My curiosity has no limits, and I'll forever strive to learn more about the world, experience new and different cultures - I wanna see it all. And while moving through the world in this skin is far from easy, it's an adventure and a joyous resistance that I will continue to pursue for as long as I can. I urge you to do the same.
Now. Spain has a history of anti-Black racism that needs to be addressed. Imma just go ahead and say that. Seen as a "developed," pretty "progressive" country, Spain (and most of Europe, really), tends to turn a blind eye to the centuries of discrimination that POC within their country have experienced on a daily basis. American isn't the only one with problems.
You might think that Spain would be pretty acquainted with Black and Brown POC because of its close proximity to Africa and the large amount of African immigrants in the country. However, I felt that was not the case.
Before coming here, I did my research. I'd read countless stories about Black people being turned away from restaurants, being given dirty looks, or having their hair made fun of. I was concerned about going to Spain with box braids, as I'd read somewhere that a girl had gotten turned away from a fancy restaurant for having dreadlocks. But one thing that really stuck with me was what seemed to be the shared experience between most Black women who'd traveled to Spain alone:
They were constantly mistaken for prostitutes.
It made me paranoid. I'd second-guess what I was wearing, I was hyperaware of every stare, wink, the way someone's eyes roamed me up and down, or when they'd slow down on their motor bikes and watch as I walked by - were they taking a photo of me? Maybe I should have worn a jacket, even though it's 80 degrees outside...
I don't know how much of it was real and how much of it was just in my head. But I do know that I've gotten plenty of catcalls along the lines of, "una morena bonita! Como te llamas, chica?" or, "you are from Africa, yes? I can tell, you're so exotic." Especially with little to no tourists in the country at the moment, I've noticed that I'm one of the few Black women I've seen around Barcelona. I've seen a few Black men, most of them African immigrants, but Black women have been few and far between.
I know that there are plenty of Afro-Spaniards in Spain, but this has been my experience thus far. A lot of the unwanted attention I get stems from the fact that my mere presence is out of the ordinary.
We love the sexualization and exoticization of Black women!
Unfortunately, (and, granted, unsurprisingly), this unnerving behavior has also come from Black men as well as from white and brown Spaniards.
But with Spain now on the UK's green list of countries to visit for the summer, I've seen a surge of Black tourists. There's been a lot more diversity in Barcelona in general, and with people more out and about nowadays, I feel a more comfortable walking the streets alone. And while I have felt uneasy at times, it's similar to the awareness I have about myself in the States. This time, there's just the added impact of being in a foreign country.
Overall, my first month here in Spain has been amazing! I have learned a lot, met new people, and gotten a step closer to experiencing all that the world has to offer. I'm incredibly grateful for this opportunity, and have learned more about myself and where I want to take my life in the coming future.
For starters, I applied to grad school in Europe! Specifically to the London School of Film and the Kent School of Arts in Paris! I'd love to pursue a Master's in Film and Screenwriting abroad, as I am a firm believer that experiencing new places will enhance my storytelling and make it that much more accessible to a diverse audience. It's why I travel, after all.
As always, thank you for your support, and if you're considering a trip out to Europe, South America, Africa, Asia, wherever, remember that I'm always here for advice and to book you the vacation of your dreams! And if you want to get started on a plan to study or work abroad, you can find my resources here.
"Pallas-Amenah Morgan is a Tripsha host @pamenah88. This blog first appeared on her website Goddess Travels. You can follow her travels on Instagram @thegoddess.pallas."