Studying abroad as a student was a bit daunting at first! I was worried about my safety as a foreigner, and wasn’t sure how I would fit in with Barcelona’s social and gender norms. Soon after I arrived, I began to notice local gender norms and roles, and to be honest, what I was exposed to wasn’t much different from what I was used to back in the States. Overall, on a positive note, Spain has made great strides in improving gender equality in many different areas over the past few years. In politics, for example, the president’s cabinet consisted of 65% female ministers in 2018. They work to close gender gaps in pay, employment and education. One of the things Spain beats the US is sharing parental leave after a couple has a child, so parents, regardless of their gender, can have time to help out and connect with the child. One specific rule that I noticed when I spent 5 days with family friends, is the sharing of household roles in the house. When I visited on a Thursday, Mum was at work, and it was Dad who picked me up from the train station and took me sightseeing before we all met for dinner. This weekend, when they had family over for lunch, I watched them both make all the food
—I made the tortillas while he made the paella,
Although Spain is making strides towards more equal and positive gender standards, there is a different standard from the United States that struck me. Soon after my arrival, I felt that men were very forward towards women, whether it was outside at night, walking in the street, shopping, eating, taking the subway, or literally anything, they would often reach out to touch or call. . However, I soon realized that this is not just a gender norm, but more of a different social norm, as all people in Spain are more open and comfortable touching and talking to strangers. This was something that took me a few weeks to come to terms with, learning how to appropriately and respectfully set boundaries with locals when they tried to interact in this way.
After studying abroad in Barcelona, I learned some essential safety tips for women (and others) traveling anywhere!
- Stay in groups as much as you can.
- Don’t walk alone or take the metro home alone at night.
- Don’t take taxis alone.
- If you do drink, make sure you stay alert, and have a sober friend!
- Try to avoid isolated areas, and stay in public places instead.
Keep valuables, such as your passport, phone, and wallet out of reach, in a zipped pocket or purse close to your body, or under a jacket.
Act confident! It’s easy for locals to tell if you’re a tourist, and the more you seem to know where you’re going/what you’re doing, the less likely you are to get pickpocketed/scammed.
Always have access to your phone – buy a new SIM card when you get there or pay for an international plan.
Carry something safe, such as a Birdie self-alarm system, or pepper spray (check to see what is allowed in the country).
Spend the extra money for a safer option! Whether it’s cars, flights, airlines, hotels, or anything else, when you’re traveling abroad, it’s worth the extra cost of staying safe!
However, the best advice I can give to any student of any gender studying abroad is to do some research on the country’s standards and safety concerns/tips before arriving, especially if there is anything in particular that piques your curiosity or concern!