Individuals of Middle Eastern and/or North African (MENA) decent may identify as White, (“White”, 2020 US Census). MENA individuals may also identify as not White, (NBC News Opinion 2020 US Census). Just as race itself is a social construct, definitions and interpretations of ‘White’ can be fluid with certain ancestries being included or excluded. In various locations and cultural contexts, MENA individuals will be recognized as having their own racial identity.
We recognize MENA students may have unique considerations for their study abroad experience beyond those of White students with European heritage. Such considerations may be applicable to your life here, and already at the forefront of your mind. Use the self-care and resilience strategies you use in the U.S. while you are abroad. Know what your support networks will be in country or at home and how you will use them.
Consider what being MENA can mean in an American context
- Non-MENA Americans may make assumptions about MENA individuals due to ignorance. People may make assumptions about your heritage based on your physical appearance, and assumptions about your religion and political views based on your heritage. The same can be true abroad, and other western counties may demonstrate very similar prejudices.
- America has a history of political involvement and military action in MENA countries. Consider you own understanding of recent history and current relations between America and MENA counties. Learning about these should not fall to you as a burden, but your unique perspective may allow you to meaningfully engage in conversations to bridge divides between people.
- American media is everywhere. American movies, TV shows and music often inform what people think about Americans, and can perpetuate stereotypes. Think about how MENA individuals are portrayed in American media. People abroad may make assumptions about you based on such portrayals.
- UW-Madison is a predominantly 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. Consider how this might influence your individual and shared experiences, as well as your group dynamic.
Get to Know Your Host Community
- Your host community will be shaped by its own unique racial make-up and history. Learn as much as you can about these, and any stereotypes or hostility that might be directed towards MENA individuals.
- If you are stared at, approached, or harassed for being MENA, think through how you might react in a way that is comfortable to you and that keeps you safe.
- People abroad identify you first as MENA, and not fully recognize or appreciate the intersectionality of your identities. If you say you are American, they may ask, “But where are you really from?” Think through how you might want to respond.
- You may be going to connect to your roots or country of ancestry. Learn more being a Heritage Seeker abroad here.
Insights from your fellow Badgers on being MENA abroad
I am Arab-American, and so being able to mingle with many other Arabs was a great experience for me, as the U.K. has lots of Arabs due to its proximity to the Middle East. – England participant
As an Iranian, I don’t necessarily look very Spanish or “American,” and many Spaniards at first thought I was Moroccan. As my accent improved and I began to dress more “European” this went away. Now people usually guess I am French. But it was a challenge that I think dissuaded the Spanish students from approaching me at first. – Spain participant
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.
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.
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