Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF) in Barcelona, Spain- Spring 2019 by Laura Walton

From January 1st to May 13th, I was afforded the amazing opportunity to study at Univeristat Pompeu Fabra (UPF) in Barcelona, taking Spanish, Law, and Political Science classes for the semester. I was the only student from The New School and 1 of 3 black students at the school. Culturally, for the first month it was a huge adjustment having to celebrate/reflect on Martin Luther King Jr. day by myself and navigate the challenges that come with being Black in Europe. I had to consciously venture and seek black communities and I eventually found  one which grew to feel like family by the time I left. I made sure to travel a lot. I traveled to Italy, Switzerland, France, England and other parts of Spain, mostly by myself, which was great.

Living in Spain for the past 5 months has been very transformative. Witnessing the events of the Catalonian Independence movement, investigating migration trends along the Mediterranean, and navigating Europe as a Black student has been humbling and engaging. I have more respect for the work that I aim to produce in my courses as a Global Studies student. Everything is so interconnected and relevant yet restricted, so I hope for more conversations across the aisle, like I had this semester, bridging worldwide Black experiences.  

I’ve dedicated time to investigating Black Communities in both hemispheres (Cuba & Spain) in addition to my own experiences from The American South to North. I aim to tie these studies together in my thesis and engage the many facets of Blackness, using historical context to weigh on our double edged relationship with “the west” and how it presents itself from the different locations. As a Global Studies major and Hispanic Studies minor, this project is deeply rooted in the discussion of colonization, capitalism, historical narrative and identity. I was anxious to think critically outside of The New School, test my growth and interact with Europe–a location I set out to dispute. I’ve returned excited to learn more and continue to connect the dots of history and black populations worldwide. 

A salient point from my experience was witnessing the number of study abroad students who had trouble understanding the Catalonian Independence Movement. Through my courses at UPF, discussions with local friends, and personal experience, I was able to draw a personal connection to movement . The historical suppression of Catalonia’s identity under Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, destroying their institutions, making their language and culture illegal, all contribute to the movement today and the rectification the population seeks. In this comparison alone, I was able to think of a number of communities that have been neglected by their government and are seeking solstice & rectification, this isn’t an isolated situation. 

Reflecting on my experience this past semester, I can not envision my life without having had that experience. I have made great strides in the Spanish language, increased my adaptability, cultivated independence, and have forged my membership into the Global Citizen community. As it is a turbulent time politically, having the opportunity to leave The United States and reflect outside the nation has been a blessing, I have a restored sense of hope for what can be accomplished. As a historian, venturing to a number of sites that are unquestionably the foundation for the arts & sciences has been remarkable. In particular for my thesis, I ventured to the south of Spain, Sevilla & Cordoba, where The Moors, a nomadic North African group had resided. They introduced irrigation techniques to a barren Spain and ruled in Southern Spain before Christian Reconquest. The Moors set a precedent for Black Diasporic Communities in the region. The flip side to my historical ventures was seeing The Tomb of Columbus. Circling back to how this experience really stretched me, I came to understand that though we (at TNS & in the U.S) understand the repercussions of Colombus’ arrival, not everyone views it in the manner. I resided in Barcelona but ventured to Madrid, the South, and Mallorca, where there were streets and towering structures in Colombus’ honor. 

Overall this past semester was remarkable and a once in a lifetime experience. I was able to discuss the misconceptions of my identity (as a Black American Woman) and make my voice heard in typically undisturbed settings. I asked questions in the classroom, in the streets, in the parliament and challenged normalities on the regular. As I return to the U.S preparing for thesis and my final semesters at TNS, I am ready to continue doing this with a renewed sense of energy and expanded view.

Toro Del Oro in Sevilla, Spain, originally built by The Moors

Plaza de Espanya in Barcelona Madrid, one of the many city centers

The Great Cathedral-Mosque of Cordoba, Spain

Plaza Espanya de Sevilla



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