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Race & Ethnicity Abroad

The subject of race and ethnicity will vary within each community, city, or region of your host country. You may be a part of the minority or majority for the first time and be challenged to consider your identity in a new context.

Regardless of your identity in the United States and how you perceive it abroad, you may find that members of your host community will be eager to ask questions and may make assumptions about your appearance, identity, and experiences. Some questions may be considered offensive in a U.S. context and some individuals may cross physical boundaries (by touching your hair or skin, or taking unsolicited photos). Be prepared to evaluate the actions and intentions of individuals, and, if you are in an uncomfortable situation, put your safety first.

Questions to Consider, Tips, & Resources

  • How is my race/ethnic group perceived in my host country? What kind of stereotypes exist?
  • What is the history of ethnic or racial tension in the country? Is the situation currently hostile to members of a minority race, majority race, or particular ethnicity?
  • What has been the relationship or international policy of the United States in relation to your host country?
  • How should I react if I find something to be offensive? Is the person curious or do they have bad intentions?
  • Has my host family hosted a student who shares my identity before?
  • Am I used to being part of the majority at home but will be a minority abroad? Or vice versa?
  • Will there be other students that share my identity in my program?
  • Does my program have support staff that will understand and help me through any racial or discriminatory incident I may face?
  • What types of experiences do students who may share my race or ethnicity typically have on the programs (or in the country) I am considering?
  • I will be studying in the country my parents are from, but I have never been there before and I don't speak the language. Can I contact other heritage students who may have studied abroad 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 goals?
  • Are issues of racism/ethnic discrimination influenced by immigration in my host country? How do politicized immigration concerns fuel racial tensions?
  • Are there laws in the host country governing race relations? Ethnic relations? What protections are offered to ethnic or racial minorities?
  • Remember that each community is going to have its own cultural norms that may be in conflict with what you are comfortable with in the United States.
  • Research the relationship and international policy of the United States and your host country.
  • Find out as much as you can about your host culture and be informed of the resources available to you, should you face any racism or discrimination.
  • Talk with other students and peers about their experiences in your host country.
  • Be aware that members of your host community may not understand your identity in the same way as in the United State and therefore may generalize or stereotype.