We have many Black students (African-American, Caribbean, Afro-Latinx, and African Diaspora) study abroad every year. Your experience abroad will be unique to you and the country/region where you study. Some Black students have shared with us that they really enjoyed being in a country that doesn’t have the same racial history as the U.S. We also acknowledge that the Black community is diverse and that race and ethnicity is just one part of your whole identity.
We want to share some special considerations for Black students – not to discourage you from traveling abroad, but to make you aware of the possibilities so you can think about how to prepare, react, and respond.
Some things to consider as you’re thinking about your time abroad:
In the U.S., people are often classified by their race or ethnicity first, but while you are abroad you may be classified first by your nationality as an American. You may also have people not believe that you are American and ask, “Where are you really from?”.
Many people in other countries get their ideas about being an American through media, TV shows and movies, and they might have stereotypes of what it means to be an “American” because of those depictions. We have heard from past students who have traveled in areas where Blackness is uncommon that different stereotypes and assumptions were made. For Black men, assumptions included that they were celebrities, rappers, basketball players or criminals. For Black women, street harassment, exoticization or hyper-sexualization has occurred.
“I think it helped because until I spoke they thought I was one of them and made it easier to interact with them. Make sure to interact with a lot of other Black South Africans because their perspective on life is an important one to hear.” –South Africa participant
“Being a racial minority where I came from and where I ended up studying abroad, my time abroad really challenged my patience when met with outdated information and general ignorance about my identity. Keep an open mind and know (or be willing to learn) how to spot the difference between ignorance and racism.” –Argentina participant
“It was interesting because I am a person of color that stayed in a country filled with people of color. I still encountered racism but not as much as I do in the United States.”–Costa Rica participant
Before you leave think about how you will react and respond if you experience misunderstandings or ignorance about your identity.
Just as in the U.S., you may also encounter racism from peers or people in the host community. It is important to determine if this is from ignorance or if it is more extreme. You may also find that people in your host country are eager to meet you and talk with you. For some, they may be meeting a Black person for the first time and have lots of questions. It is best to assume good intentions and curiosity in most cases. These conversations can lead to great local connections. If you are in a majority non-white country, white students on the program may experience what is like to the minority for the first time. They may share those feelings with you and you may have conflicting feelings on how talk about that with them.
“I was the only Black person in the group and many times since we were going at times to villages that don’t get a lot of tourists; I was also one of the first Black women some people have seen. I tried not to let that fact divert from my research and true interest of learning about the people. I was polite and interested. Once they saw I was there as a student and respectful we were able to have great times.” –Thailand participant
“You definitely feel like you stick out in a country such as Denmark if you are a student of color. Going to UW did prepare me for the demographics of the program being mostly white.” –Denmark participant
“There were very few African Americans in my program it felt very isolating at points however you find communities in places you least expect it.” -England participant
“At first I was bothered by people staring at me but eventually got over it. It was also significant that I was the only Black person in the program (really the whole city) but I got used to that too. It is helpful to understand that there’s much more to identity than just racial identity” –India participant
“As a black male, you will get stared at and have a lot of questions asked about your hair or culture which may be offending if you do not have an open mind about the experience and understand they are trying to learn as well, not hurt.” Nepal participant
Colorism may be something you encounter. Your complexion may play a role in your identity, and students with darker complexions may experience the program and interactions with people in your host country in a different way than students with lighter skin tones. Your skin tone may also help you blend in more with people from your host country or may have you experience privilege in a different way than you do in the United States.
“Being a black woman abroad was a very different experience from my white peers. I stood out a lot because of my darker complexion and Chinese people often stared at me and sometimes took pictures of me because they have never seen a black person before. At times it was really challenging and somewhat alienating especially when I went places where I got a lot of attention. Overall it was an intense experience and taught me a lot. It will be difficult and sometimes frustrating but remember to respect the culture and take the opportunity to teach Chinese people about your culture as well.” –China participant
“I did have instances where people pointed out my difference in skin tone from what they were used to seeing. Don’t be discouraged if a random person points out that you look different in a way because they say it is actually a form of endearment for Costa Ricans.” –Costa Rica participant
Depending on where you study, you may be feel more welcomed or understand cultural nuances in your country.
“I felt a lot more accepted in this country with my identity. –Australia participant
“As a Black person, I could relate to many of the stories we heard [in the village] because they were all to similar. I didn’t go over there to make them my charity case. I went to see where I could help and how I could help my community at the same time.” –Uganda participant
The Black community is diverse and you have multiple aspects of your identity. Think through how those other intersectional parts your identity may be impacted abroad. Some other things to think through might include:
- Hair texture/types and styling needs. Depending on your host country, you may have a harder time finding a salon for your hair needs or may need to bring enough hair care products for your whole time. Here are some tips for Traveling with Natural Hair.
- You might be a first-generation college student and being a first-generation college student may be a common thing in your host country. Read more about considerations for first generation college students here.
- Having the ability to travel may make you seem wealthy to people in your host country when you may be taking out loans or earning/receiving (?) scholarships to help fund the experience.
- You may be going to connect to your roots or country of ancestry. Learn more being a Heritage Seeker abroad here.
Your experience will be unique to you. Since UW-Madison is a predominately White institution, if you are participating on a program that has other UW students present, the odds are that most of them will be White. Non-White students have found this challenging because their White UW-Madison peers may not encounter the same types of challenges, and their typical support networks are at a distance. Think about how you will take care of yourself and your mental health while you’re abroad. Use the self-care and resilience strategies you use in the U.S. while you are abroad. You may want to research in advance or upon arrival whether there are available student organizations at your program location or other local networks you can plug into to feel supported. If you need help processing your experience, reach out to people you trust in your program and at home, to on-site staff, and/or to your Study Abroad Advisor for assistance. Your program experience will be unique to you, and our staff is here to help you.
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.
Meaningful Travel Tips and Tales: African American Perspectives
A travel book from GoAbroad.com to provide African American students with tools, knowledge, and confidence to travel abroad.
Top 10 reasons for African American Students to go abroad
Specific benefits for African American students to study abroad.
#StudyAbroadSoBlack is a hashtag introduced by Howard’s Ralph J. Bunche Center with the goal of encouraging black travelers to share pictures and tales of their journeys and encourage others to see the world as well. The hashtag is described in the Bunche Center’s mission statement as “both a declaration and a call to action letting it be known that studying abroad is a learning experience that is accessible and necessary for students at Howard and elsewhere.”
Traveling While Black
Onieka Raymond is the host of Travel Channel’s One Bag and You’re Out and Big City, Little Budget. She is dedicated to inspiriting people of color to see the world.
We ask students to share their experiences on how various parts of their identity impacted them while they were abroad in their program evaluations. The quotes above are tips and advice given by Badgers about their individual experiences and thoughts. These do not represent all experiences in a location. Our staff is happy to talk with you about any questions you may have.