Many students choose to study abroad to learn more about their ancestry — these students are known as heritage seekers. The Institute of International Education uses the term “heritage seeker” to describe a student who is drawn to study abroad in a particular country and culture “not because it is unfamiliar and new, but rather because it is somewhat familiar.”
The type of experience a heritage seeker will have abroad will be unique. Some students come home feeling very connected to their ancestral roots, while others return feeling more appreciative of their American roots. Either way, going abroad will give the students a chance to learn more about their ancestral history and the culture today firsthand.
Going to an ancestral homeland can be a very emotional experience because choice of location is not just for academics but for personal reasons as well. Some students will be able to meet relatives, while others will connect with their ancestral history or the language of their family through coursework. Many students find that local community members have high expectations regarding the cultural knowledge and linguistic capabilities of heritage seeking students.
Heritage seekers can, at times, idolize views of their ancestral homeland, so it is important to go into the country with an open mind. They may be welcomed by the local community but still considered an outsider. Here are some questions to answer when considering studying abroad as a heritage seeker:
- How will I be perceived in my ancestral homeland?
- How should I react if I find something to be offensive?
- How will it be to be a part of the majority abroad?
- How will I process being part of the majority while abroad?
- How will I handle it if relatives ask for money or other favors while I am there?
- How will I respond if community members or relatives ask for money or other favors while I am there?
- Will there be other heritage-seeking students in my program?
- I will be studying in the country my parents are from, but I have never been there before, and I do not speak the language. How will that feel?
- I will be studying in my family's native country having never been there before and I may or may not speak the language, how will that feel?
UW-Stout's Multicultural Student Services
*This page was prepared in consultation with the Multicultural Student Services office. The Study Abroad Team wishes to express its gratitude for the collaboration, input, and support.