HSSA students at Plaza Sol

Diversity in Madrid

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CIEE wants all our students to feel welcomed, supported, and empowered to succeed while studying abroad. On this page, local CIEE staff have provided details about conditions and cultural attitudes that students with specific identities might encounter at their location. The information below is just a broad overview so if you have specific questions or concerns not covered here, please email inclusion@ciee.org. We would be glad to have local staff share their perspectives, talk with you about accommodations, connect you with resources, and/or put you in touch with a program alum who could speak about their experiences navigating a program in this location. 

No matter where you choose to study abroad with CIEE, our staff—all of whom receive regular and comprehensive training in diversity, equity, and inclusion—will be on hand throughout your program to provide advice, resources, and support regarding these issues.



Weight, height, hair style and body image are common daily topics among Spaniards. Sometimes people use adjectives referring to body image to refer to someone, in most cases as a compliment, for example, the blond one, the tall one, the skinny one, fatty (gordita), etc. While this may seem rude, these nicknames are not meant to be insulting but rather as an expression of tenderness and familiarity.

Healthy living, concentrated on exercising but specially on healthy eating habits, is very important in Spain. Therefore, some people might see overweight as unhealthy and related to low social-economic status. At the same time, social life goes all around food in Spain and host mothers tend to encourage students to finish everything on the plate and eat more out of hospitality.



Spaniards, on a personal level, have a positive and understanding attitude regarding people with disabilities, and are eager to help. That said, students with disabilities (especially students who use a wheelchair and those who cannot see or hear) may face challenges in Spain due to a lack of public access for those with special needs.

Students are encouraged to provide as much information as they can related to their specific disabilities (or related needs) prior to arrival so CIEE staff can assess potential challenges and arrange for appropriate accommodations.

City buses and special cabs usually accommodate wheelchairs. However, because Spanish cities are old, many streets are not easily accessible for a person in a wheelchair because they have steps, high sidewalks, or uneven pavement.

At public and private institutions, newer buildings are usually adapted for accessibility, but when a student takes class in an older building, the solution tends to be that the class is offered on the ground floor.

Madrid has the most well-connected public train transportation system in the European Union. Students with disabilities can depend on a private transportation service, such as taxis or van service, as well as the Madrid metro.

Blind adults are also a large group in Spain, and in Madrid. The Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles (ONCE), the national blind organization, is based in the Chueca neighborhood. ONCE is the largest Spanish employer for blind people. Its main objective is to raise funds for social and support services through a national lottery system and has become one of the country’s largest cultural landmarks and support systems for the blind. While in Spain, you will see many ONCE lottery booths that are in cities and small towns all over Spain.



"When we talk about gender, it is a fairly broad term that encompasses people's sexual identity. In the case of Spain, and after the arrival of democracy in 1978, various laws related to gender have been implemented that expand people's rights. In 2006, the Gender Equality Law (between men and women) was created; in 2007, the Law against human trafficking; and currently, in 2021, the Trans Law, which equalizes the rights of people with transgender identity and that gives them equal rights and opportunities as other people.

Some students have found that gender roles in Spain are quite different than what they are used to in the United States. Although diverse modes of behaviour are becoming more commonly accepted, students may still encounter challenges surrounding the interactions between men and women in Spain.

Female students, for example, may find that they attract a great deal of unwanted attention from Spanish men in the form of the piropo –whistling or inappropriate comments. Attitudes regarding the piropo are changing in Spain, but the practice is still quite common. During orientation and throughout your program, CIEE staff are on hand to provide advice and support regarding these issues.


X Gender Marker

The Spanish Government has recently approved the law for the equality of transgender people and the guarantee of LGBTQIA+ rights. The country still needs to become familiar with new vocabulary and regulations (change in official forms, terminology, etc.) so it will take some time until the institutions update their language and process to this law. The educational curriculum at all stages in Spain will include knowledge of and respect for sexual and gender diversity, as well as teacher training in this matter. Additionally, the Government has planned to increase the promotion of sexual and reproductive education programs and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, plus positive action measures for the LGBTQIA+ collective in the workplace, education, and health.



American heritage learning students in Spain may occasionally run into friction in classes or homestays if there are misplaced expectations about the student’s language mastery or if students use different vocabulary than is common in Spain. However, each form of language is correct and accepted as a variant of Spanish, and CIEE staff have experience supporting heritage learners as they work to gain a local perspective, improve their language skills, discover their cultural heritage and traditions, and reinforce their identity.



Madrid is an area with a high concentration of immigrant groups from Eastern Europe, Africa, and Latin America. This phenomenon started in the mid 1990’s and it is likely that students will hear some non-Spanish speakers in public spaces in Madrid. Students may hear different ideas about race while living abroad and past students comment that in general Spaniards may not be politically correct in expressing views about race or skin color.

While the United States prides itself on multicultural diversity, second generation immigration groups are only recently reaching universities and the job market. As a result of the small percentage of immigrants living in Spain, the country is quite homogeneous. The racially homogeneous character of Spain may make some students feel uncomfortable, particularly when “being different” can elicit stares from some Spaniards. However, it is important to remember that while the act of staring is inappropriate, there is very rarely any harm intended. Staring, in any context, is a normal practice in Spain: essentially everyone stares at everyone. Many Spaniards are used to checking everyone out, local or foreign, so you will have to accept this general habit early on, especially in public waiting areas, public transport, and public areas, such as parks.

Members of African American, Middle Eastern, Latino, and Asian ethnic groups may experience comments based on racial stereotypes. Asians in Spain, for example, are commonly referred to as “chinos,” regardless of their country of ethnic origin. Please be aware of the cultural context and talk with CIEE Center staff. It is important to keep in mind that many of the stereotypes and prejudiced attitudes, which emanate from some Spaniards, are a result of their lack of exposure to other racial and ethnic groups. Fortunately, there are numerous organizations in Spain that are committed to combating prejudice and these resources will be available to you, if necessary, once you are in Spain.

The specific historical and cultural association of Spain with the African diaspora is not only a dimension of the past, but also a large part of the study abroad experience in contemporary Spain. The experience of African Americans and people of color is gaining a new momentum with Black Lives Matter that has also impacted parts of Spain. This social movement is gaining visibility with street demonstrations, media interviews and NGO online activities in cities such as Madrid and Barcelona."



Spain is an officially secular country since 1978. However, 84% of population declare themselves as believers. 80% of the country´s population practices Christianity, so it is the religion most followed by Spanish population. 4% of the population declare themselves Muslims, and 1% Jews. Historically, the Spanish culture has been influenced by Islamism, Judaism, and Christianity. In fact, there was a time when the three religions coexisted in full harmony (late Middle Ages).

During Franco´s dictatorship, Christianity was one of the bases of power, subduing society under the more orthodox laws of Christian doctrine. With the arrival of democracy, the policies and Spanish society demonstrated tolerance and mental openness to adopt secular laws that would strip the country of an official religion, allowing each citizen to choose and exercise the religion they like.

Since Christianity was the most practiced religion over centuries, folklore and celebrations are typically connected to Christianity. Today, this folklore is still very present in some areas, such as the South of Spain, where "Semana Santa" is very popular and lived with a great devotion



Sexual diversity has been a cultural reference in Spanish society for the last 20 years and gives an idea of the tolerant character of Spaniards in general. Spain was the third country in the world, after Belgium and the Netherlands, to formalize in 2005 equal marriage between people of the same sex with the same rights as heterosexual marriage. There are historical associations that have helped and promoted the normalization of the sexual orientation from the LGTB community. Spaniards' way of life rooted in the family and the neighbourhood has been one of the determining factors for the normalization of LGBT community.

Spain´s capital has the largest contingent of LGTBQ communities in the country. Nearly 500,000 people gather in Madrid to celebrate the annual Pride parade each summer. The first week of November is the annual Gay and Lesbian Film festival that shows films with sexual orientation themes at various theaters throughout Madrid.

One of the main areas of daily LGBTQ activities in Madrid is the Chueca neighborhood, which offers many commercial venues, restaurants, clothing stores, bookstores, and houses the center for COGAM (a political action group for LGBTQ specific causes). The area is also popular among young Spanish people who visit the various clubs, bars, and other night venues where American music can be popular. The neighborhood has also been a place of a lot of political and social activism.



Despite being known as an expensive city, Madrid can easily be done on a student budget. Many places of interest are free to visit and staying with a host family can save you money on meals. Madrid is a walking city and a great way to discover it without spending a penny is to simply stroll around enjoying the architecture, squares, parks, fresh markets.

The integrated public transport system is relatively inexpensive, too. The average monthly cost for shopping per person (food and hygiene) is usually around 85€ for the most careful spenders or double for an average spender. So, it’s safer to assume that you’ll spend around 100€ per month when going to the most reasonably priced supermarkets such as Mercadona, Lidl, Dia. When eating out, the best thing to do is to stay away from the busy tourist streets. Find places to eat in less crowded neighborhoods. The prices will be lower there and probably even taste better!

For cultural activities, take advantage of the designated free day to visit each museum. The CIEE center organizes a wide range of activities during the semester/summer as well – these are already included in the program fee so there’s no extra expense to you! Activities include day trips to nearby historical sites, museums visits, workshops, and other cultural experiences.

Programs in Madrid