How do you navigate another culture while being true to yourself?

me at the El Gato de Botero

Traveling has always been a dream of mine since I was a kid. Unfortunately, my socioeconomic background never fully supported the financial stability an individual needs to have in order to travel abroad. For the past few months, I have been fortunate enough to study abroad in Dublin, Ireland and don’t Dublin is beautiful don’t get me wrong, but SADS (Seasonal Affective Disorder) has taken its toll on me after being in Ireland for more than a month. Dublin much like Seattle, Washington or Portland, Oregon is cold and rainy, especially in the winter months. Which has made it harder mentally and emotionally to have the energy to explore or walk long distances in order to go grocery shopping and other daily tasks. 

While navigating Ireland’s weather has been a challenge for me, my partner and I were more than excited to get a break from the Isle of Emeralds rainy and 40 degrees Fahrenheit temperature. For reading week or spring break as we call it in the states, my partner and I decided to go to Barcelona, Spain not only for the warm weather and beaches, but for the local history and culture as well. Since Spain is now the second country I have ever been to outside of the United States and Ireland, I expected the language to be a huge culture shock and challenge. However, the biggest challenge I have been facing so far since arriving in Barcelona is being comfortable to hold my partner’s hand and give public displays of affection as well as the style of clothing we wear.

After being in Ireland’s cold and rainy weather for a month now, the thought of being able to wear shorts and a t-shirt sounded marvelous. On our first day of being in Barcelona, we decided to pack up and head to the nearest beach. When most people think of going to the beach they wear swimsuits and or light clothing, so that’s what my partner and I did, we wore shorts/leggings and t-shirts, but were only met with stares as we walked across the city. After researching this puzzling event, wondering if others felt the same as I am not particularly religious and never have been. I truly didn’t see the issue with wearing leggings/shorts, the weather was above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which was way warmer than anything we both had experienced for the last month. While we are here in the winter months of Spain, I can see why some people would have had the looks they did, but it still raises the question of how do you navigate another culture, while being true to yourself and who you are, without disrespecting anyone.

My partner at the El Gato de Botero

completely understand that you may not be able to please everyone, but from the number of results, I found of other people also wondering whether or not it was acceptable to wear shorts in Spain. It made me think harder and more critically as to how far is my personal boundary for respecting an underlying culture tradition and doing what makes me personally happy. Along with how societies as a whole change cultural norms, whether or not we wore shorts/leggings my partner and I still would have gotten stares as we are obviously tourists. My partner is seriously pale as we haven’t seen the sun for about a month and I’m darker than the average Spaniard. 

Before arriving in Spain we did our homework and decided to go to Barcelona/Spain since it is often called the most LGBT friendliest places and Barcelona in particular as being one of the LGBT-friendliest cities in the worst. So while we may not get as many stares for PDA or holding hands as we might in other countries, we are still wary of being in another country and refrain from for our safety as it only takes one individual to sway a groups perspective. So between wearing legging/shorts and not being able to give my partner affection publicly, Barcelona has been challenging, but exciting to travel to so far, as it is unlike any other place I have ever visited.

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