We have many Latinx students study abroad every year. Your experience abroad will be unique to you and the country/region where you study. Some Latinx 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 Latinx community is diverse and that race and ethnicity is just one part of your whole identity.
We want to share some special considerations for Latinx 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. Telenovelas are also popular around the world which may lead to some other misperceptions of being Latinx. We have heard from female students that street harassment, exoticization or hyper-sexualization has occurred. We have heard from male students that they can be viewed to have strong machismo or masculine identities.
“As a Mexican-American in Cuba, sometimes people didn’t believe me when I told them I was from the U.S., and I would always be asked if I had Latino heritage.” Cuba participant
“I don’t know if the way I was impacted as a Hispanic came from my own biases or ignorance on their part. However, after some time I started to notice that after an acknowledgement on where I was from, that part of my identity took a backseat. All interactions following that acknowledgement did not stem from that part of my identity, rather that identity was just one part of my entire existence. In the States, many of us may have a shield, even if subconscious, towards people that don’t look like us. I encourage you to try to bring down this shield and to trust people’s goodness and best interest.” –Denmark participant
Before you leave think about how you will react and respond if you experience misunderstandings or ignorance about your identity.
Colorism may be something you encounter. Your complexion may play a role in your identity, and Latinx 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 U.S.
“Everyone kept thinking I was Moroccan so I didn’t really have a problem with my identity impacting me. Even when I told them I was Latina they were more interested and impressed.” Morocco participant
“I am a women of color, I will always get stared at but because I was a Latina in a Hispanic country my experience was not as drastic as others were.” –Spain participant
“Being Hispanic in Argentina helped me pass a little more easily as a local which helped with integration.” –Argentina participant
“Although I am Hispanic (Costa Rican) I was treated as a white person in Peru, because I have light skin. I have never felt more of a white privilege than I do here. If you are white they will assume you are a “gringa” and will assume you are wealthy. (Which taking into account the exchange rate of dollars, it’s a little true.) Race is on a gradient here, so the whiter you are, the more “high class” you are seen as. I have never been so keenly aware of my skin color that I am here.” –Peru participant
Depending on where you study, people may assume you have certain cultural or linguistic skills. You may also may miss your cultural touchpoints or discover new ones in your host country.
“It was hard to find my own culture. There was big spread of American culture but not as much Mexican.” –France participant
“It was pretty cool to see my last name on street signs for once.” –Argentina participant
Your cultural background may help you adapt to your new country.
“Hispanic culture is very similar to Arab culture. I knew and understood cues that my peers didn’t. It made it really easy to become accustomed to many norms in Jordan. Our people tend to look the same too. Most people thought I was local and would walk past me to greet my white or Asian peers.” –Jordan past participant
We know that for some of you, your family may play a role in your decision making. Some of you may have families that travel frequently in the U.S., if you or your parents are immigrants you may travel back to your countries of origin, or your family may not travel at all. We encourage you to share your plans with your family and talk through any questions they may have. Share the benefits, your goals, and research you’ve done. Make a game plan with them, if that is what works best for your family. Our staff can help you prepare for this conversation.
The Latinx 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.
“Being Mexican, I believe it helped me settle in Costa Rica much more easily than my colleagues due to the fact that I already knew the language and many students my age in Costa Rica are also first generation college students. This gave me a platform and, I believe, helped me adapt to the change in environment more easily.” –Costa Rica past participant
- 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.
IES Abroad Blog: The Truth Revealed:9 Misconceptions about Latinx Students & Study Abroad Debunked
Meaningful Travel Tips and Tales: Latinx Traveler Perspectives
A travel book from GoAbroad.com to provide Latinx students with tools, knowledge, and confidence to travel abroad.
“Te Vas?!” 7 Tips for Latinos Traveling on Programs Abroad
Travel tips from GoAbroad.Com on questions to answer and things to prepare.
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.