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Race and Ethnicity

The Office of International Education encourages all students to study abroad but recognizes that students of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds may face unique considerations because definitions of race and ethnicity vary from culture to culture.*

Students may encounter a broad range of attitudes regarding diversity issues that may result in stares, comments, or blatant prejudice by the host population. Often people in your host country will be curious, and some may ask questions about your cultural heritage that feel insensitive. There may even be people who will be eager to touch a student's hair or skin. Keep in mind people in other countries have different cultural norms. People communicate and express emotions differently. A person abroad may be more or less direct and emotionally expressive, for instance more blunt than what is typical in the United States.

Considering Issues of Race and Ethnicity Before Going Abroad

We encourage all students to research social norms and cultural practices of the host country before leaving to study abroad. Our office staff are available to answer questions about the study abroad process and to help you understand how issues of diversity may be experienced and understood differently abroad.

Here are a few example questions to help you think about race and ethnicity abroad:
  • What is the relationship between the host country and the United States?
  • What does it mean to be perceived as an American in a foreign country?
  • How is my ethnic group perceived in the host country? What kind of stereotypes are there?
  • What types of experiences do students of color typically have in the programs (or in the country) I am considering?
  • Will I experience discrimination in the host country? Is there a history of a particular type of discrimination, which students like me have faced? Whom will I contact if I experience a discriminatory incident?

Exploring Your Heritage

Some students choose programs in their family’s country/region of origin. That experience can be fulfilling, but often students also start to redefine their identity as an American. Some questions you might ask include the following:
  • 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?  
  • Can I contact other heritage seeking students who may have done this before me so I can learn from their experiences?
  • How can I explain to my family that a study abroad experience can contribute to the achievement of my academic and career goals?

We suggest you check out the specific section on Heritage on this website for more considerations and resources.

Finding Your Support Network Abroad

Leaving your friends and family at home to go to another country can be a daunting decision. We encourage you to carefully select the program that will best fit your needs. The study-abroad office offers programs with varying levels of support on-site. Programs range from those for very independent students who want to study directly in another university to those students who need or want lots of support through a faculty-led program, with a multitude of options falling in between. Talk with your Study Abroad Advisor about the level of support you would like on a program, and the Advisor can help you select the right program for you. Build a support network with other study abroad students on your program, so that if you do experience discrimination, you will have additional support.

Including Your Support Network at Home

Some students are hesitant to study abroad because of family responsibilities or commitments to friends and family members. As you are making the decision to study abroad, be sure to include them in the discussion. Get them excited about your program too. Our office has resources for family members and caregivers as well that we are happy to share with you.
Additional Resources

*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.