Many students find that, as with many parts of their identity, their experience and understanding of their racial or ethnic identity shifts while abroad.

For some students, going abroad may be the first time in their lives that they find themselves in the racial or ethnic majority or minority, depending on their community of origin. For others, being abroad is the first time that they are seen as U.S. Americans first, and a member of their racial or ethnic group second.

It can be helpful to learn about the racial and ethnic history of your host country ahead of time so that you can better understand what to expect from the social landscape, and how this might differ from what you are used to at home.

Things to Consider Before Going Abroad

Adapted from Northwestern University’s “Identity Abroad: Race & Ethnicity” and Diversity Abroad’s “Diversity & Inclusion Abroad Guide: Minority & Students of Color Abroad

  • Am I used to being part of the majority at home, but will be a minority abroad? Or vice versa?
  • Where do people of my race/ethnicity fit into my host country’s society? Am I likely to be a target of racism/classism, or am I going to be treated the same way in my host country as I am in the U.S.?
  • What is the history of ethnic or racial relations in my host country? Is the situation currently hostile to members of a certain race, ethnicity, or religion?
  • Does immigration influence issues of racism/ethnic discrimination in my host country? How do politicized immigration concerns fuel racial tensions? What is the character of immigrant communities in my host country?
  • Are there laws in my host country governing racial or ethnic relations? What protections are offered to ethnic or racial minorities?

Things to Consider While Abroad

Adapted from Diversity Abroad’s “Diversity & Inclusion Abroad Guide: Minority & Students of Color Abroad

  • What are the cultural norms of my host country? Do people seem to be less “politically correct” than in the U.S.? How does this manifest itself?
  • How is my ethnic group perceived in my host country? What kind of stereotypes are there?
  • How should I react if I find something offensive? Is the person curious or do they have bad intentions?
  • How should I react if people generalize or incorrectly identify my ethnicity or nationality?
  • Who can I talk to if I face racist or discriminatory incidents?
  • Are there student groups, special interest groups, or communities in my host country that I can connect with while I’m here?

Highlighted Resources

Additional Resources

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