Many students choose to study abroad to learn more about their ancestry — these students are known as heritage seekers. The Institute of International Education has coined the term “heritage seeker” as 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 you will have abroad as a heritage seeker 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 you a chance to learn more about your ancestral history and the culture today firsthand.
Going to your ancestral homeland can be a very emotional experience because you are choosing the location not just for the academics, but for personal reasons as well. Some students will be able to meet with relatives, while others will be connecting with their ancestral history or the language of their family through coursework. Many students found that local community members have high expectations regarding the cultural knowledge and linguistic capabilities of heritage seeking students.
Heritage seekers, at times, have idealized views of their ancestral homes, so it is important to go into the country with an open mind. You may be welcomed by the local community, but still considered an outsider. Often in the U.S., people will ask about your ancestral background and someone will reply, “I’m Irish, French, and German.”, but abroad, you are seen as an American.
Some Things to Consider:
- How will I be perceived in my home country?
- 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 handle it if relatives ask for money or other favors while I am there?
- Will there be other heritage 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.
Seeking Your Roots
An article from a UT-Austin student magazine.
Tips and insights related to multicultural issues while studying abroad.
Heritage Seeking & Study Abroad
Common themes found from a case study on heritage seekers on study abroad programs.
Towards Reconciliation in the Motherland: Race, Class, Nationality, Gender, and the Complexities of American Student Presence at the University of Ghana, Legon