We encourage all students to study abroad, but recognize that students of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds may face unique considerations because definitions of race 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. There may be people who will be eager to touch your hair or skin. Often people in your host country will be curious, and some may ask questions about your cultural heritage that feel insensitive. Keep in mind that people in other countries have different cultural norms and are often more blunt and less “politically correct” compared to the United States.
Things to Think About Before Going Abroad
We encourage all students to research social norms and cultural practices of the host country before leaving to study abroad. Our staff members are available to answer questions about the study abroad process and to help you to understand how diversity issues 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 my 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 my host country? What kind of stereotypes are there?
- What types of experiences do students of color typically have on the programs (or in the country) I am considering?
- Will I experience discrimination in my host country? Is there a history of a particular type of discrimination students like me have faced? Whom will I contact if I do face racial or discriminatory incidents?
- 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. Can I contact other heritage 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?
Learning About 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. Read more about Heritage seekers here.
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. Different programs have varying levels of support on-site. Programs range from those for very independent students who want to study directly in another university to those for strictly UW-students who need or want lots of support, 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 they 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 support to deal with it.
Your Support at Home
Some students are hesitant to study abroad because of family responsibilities or commitments to friends and family. As you are deciding to study abroad, be sure to include your family and friends. Get them excited about your program too. We have resources for parents as well that we are happy to share with you.
UW–Madison specific resources
This site offers tips and insights related to multicultural issues while studying abroad.
This site offers mentors who are students, parents, and advisers and are comfortable with addressing diversity concerns in the context of learning abroad. Also available are specific resources for African-American, Asian Pacific Islander American, Hispanic-American and Native-American students.
Top 10 reasons for African American Students to go abroad
Specific benefits for African American students to study abroad.
Heritage Seeking & Study Abroad –
Article on common themes found from a case study on heritage seekers on study abroad programs.
Scholarship and financial aid information for students of color in higher education and study abroad.
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