While studying abroad you may be identified by your race or ethnicity, or simply as
an American student. The people you encounter may have an opinion about the U.S. and
be eager to tell you that opinion, positive or negative. Perceptions toward other
races or ethnicities may also vary depending on where you are studying. As a student
of color, you may be concerned about facing racial bias or prejudice without the comfort
of your usual support system. Whether or not people identify you as American, they
may make assumptions based on your physical appearance. There may be people who stare
at you or who are eager to touch your hair or your skin. Others may ask insensitive
questions about your cultural heritage, physical features, or national origins. If
you are studying in an area where people have had little or no contact with minority
students, people tend to be very curious – especially children. You will find that
confronting and coping with your adjustment abroad, as challenging as it may be, can
be a positive experience. It will not always be fun, but it can present a learning
opportunity that will benefit you in the future. If somebody says or does something
that is offensive to you, try to distinguish between a person who is genuinely curious
about you and your culture and someone who has bad intentions. While the person may
have said or done something that is offensive to you, they may not have intended to
do so and may simply be curious to know more. Political correctness is far less common
in other countries than it is here in the U.S. If an encounter makes you uncomfortable,
remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible. Your safety is your first
Questions to consider with an Advisor/by yourself:
What are some common perceptions/stereotypes about my race or ethnicity in my host
How will I react if I encounter racism or other discriminatory behavior? How should
Is there a history of racial or ethnic tension in my host country?
How will my personal experiences with my racial identity shape my experience abroad?
Will there be other minority students in my program?
Who should I contact if I encounter racial bias abroad?
Does my program have support staff what will understand and help me through any racial
or discriminatory incident I may face?
Would I be comfortable studying somewhere where no one else looks like me?
Are there laws governing race related crime in your host country?
What are some products and services that I have at home that may not be accessible
in my host country?
Tips for having a positive study abroad experience:
Remember that people abroad have different cultural norms and tend to be less politically
correct than people in the U.S. social constructs than those from the U.S.
The more you integrate with the culture the less you will stand out, but your appearance
may still attract attention. There may be resistance to welcoming you into host culture
because of your appearance.
Research how your racial identity is received in your host country. You may also want
to research their history with immigration in general.
Talk to other students that share your racial identity about their experiences abroad
– especially if they studied in the same country.
Build a support network with your peers that you are studying abroad with so that
if you encounter racial bias abroad, you will have support to deal with it. Identify
allies who will stand up with you against racism.
Be prepared for incidents, but do not go abroad expecting racism or discrimination.
Research the justice system in your host country.
Office of Diversity and Inclusion - The Office of Diversity and Inclusion works closely with university students, faculty
and staff to create and sustain an inclusive learning, living and working environment
where all members of the university’s community feel that they are welcomed, valued
Office of Multicultural Student Affairs - The mission of the Office of the Multicultural Student Affairs is to build a welcoming,
accepting, and supportive environment across multiple dimensions of identity through
education, programs, and services that promote diversity, social justice, and student