Las Vegas native Kendall Tiarra never considered living in Spain until she landed a temporary job in Madrid as an au pair in the summer of 2017. While there, she fell in love with Madrid’s nightlife, diversity, and historic architecture, and decided she had to return after graduating.

“After spending just two months in Madrid, I was hooked,” she told Travel Noire. “Spain was a sort of coming-of-age experience for me. Despite having traveled to Europe the summer before, it was my first time living in a big city and a huge contrast from my boring, suburban life in Nevada, so I desperately wanted to continue to experience big-city living after graduation.”

Kendall gradated from the University of Nevada and officially moved to Spain in the fall of 2018. The 25-year-old found employment as an English language assistant and so far, has lived in Madrid, Sevilla, and Vigo.

Among the top benefits of living in Spain, says Kendall, are the country’s relaxed lifestyle and healthy work-family balance. There she is able to enjoy a work week of just 16 hours instead of 40. Having ample free time and taking advantage of Spain’s ideal geographic location, gives Kendall the freedom, and flexibility to travel to more cities and countries. The healthcare is another major benefit of living in Spain.

“The healthcare I get as a non-Spanish foreigner is so much better than the healthcare I would currently have in the United States. I recently had a tooth pulled a few weeks ago and I didn’t have to pay anything at all. In the United States, the same dental treatment would be around $400 or more under my current insurance plan.”

Living in Spain has exposed Kendall to more diversity than she’d ever seen in her American neighborhood. Meeting people of many different backgrounds, she has befriended not only Spanish people and other Europeans, but people from many African and South American countries, as well.

Ultimately, it was living outside of the United States and meeting so many people of various cultures that helped strengthen Kendall’s pride in her African American identity. Growing up in primarily white environments, she always felt the need to censor her thoughts, feelings, and opinions in order to protect herself from ridicule.

“During my younger years in school, I was always afraid to speak up and defend myself from microaggressions and blatant racism because I wanted to fit in and not draw attention to myself (and I had virtually no protection from this in the first place). Despite this, I was always unhappy in these environments, but I didn’t know why.”

It wasn’t until she began meeting and befriending people from all walks of life that Kendall realized that African Americans are one of the most unique and diverse cultures in the world. Also, having experienced her share of racism and xenophobia as a Black and non-Spanish person in Spain, she believes these experiences have helped her become stronger and more sure of who she is.

In addition to strengthening her relationships with the Spanish people in her life, Kendall says she is gradually outgrowing the ‘us vs. them’ mentality a person can sometimes have while in living in a foreign country.

“I am more prideful in my African American identity, and I’m a lot more confident to speak up on matters such as racism, sexism, and misogynoir— something I was afraid to do while growing up. I am a lot more confident with my hair, my body, and the uniqueness of my physical presentation and interests. Instead of being gaslighted for these feelings and held to certain standards and expectations from both white mainstream society and my home community, I am able to simply be myself without the fear of stereotypes guiding my decisions.” 

“At times, I do feel like I will never truly be integrated, but it is something that I must accept if I am to continue traveling and living abroad, and appreciating different cultures for what they are. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to various parts of Spain, and the diversity of the landscapes and cultures in different regions of Spain is another reminder to not paint everyone with one brush.”

Having grown fond of the north of Spain, particularly Galicia, where she is currently living, Kendall was also able to appreciate the beauty of Andalusia, from its beaches and Moorish architecture to its large population of foreigners.

“After Madrid, Malaga is my favorite city in Spain. I’ve also worked in small villages in Extremadura and Catalunya, and although one might assume that small pueblos would breed similar types of people with similar mindsets, the political differences between the two regions were complete opposites, and also affected my treatment as a foreigner differently. It’s been interesting learning about them and all the other Spanish people I’ve met, and learning how all their origins differentiate from one another’s.”

As Kendall learns more about the natives, they are also learning about her, tearing down stereotypes on both sides and building positive bonds in the process. Through these experiences, she is continually growing and learning more about herself, as well.

Related: As A Black Woman, Having A Baby In Spain Is Safer Than In The U.S.