Identity Abroad

International education is open and available to students of all races, genders, sexual orientations, religions, or levels of ability.  Study Abroad & Global Engagement is committed to fostering diversity in our programs and program participants, and will work with you to find a program that best fits your academic, personal, and professional goals.

KU Study Abroad seeks to provide access to study abroad while also ensuring that all students have a safe and rewarding experience.  Before you elect where to go abroad, it is important to consider your personal identity and how those identities may affect your experience within a particular country or culture. It is wise to seek to understand the culture, customs, and expectations of where you will be traveling so as to not find yourself in an uncomfortable or even a potentially dangerous situation. 

Students studying abroad in Tanzania.
Students studying abroad in Tanzania.

Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Program

  • Are there safety issues I should be aware of regarding my identity in specific countries abroad? If yes, can I stay safe in those locations, or should I look for other destinations?
  • How will local legislation affect how you express your identity abroad?
  • What is the perception of U.S. citizens in the countries that you are considering?
  • How is race/ethnicity viewed differently in those countries than your home in the U.S.?
  • Are there any political issues or immigration issues involving those countries and U.S. foreign policy that could impact how people view Americans?

Preparing to Go Abroad

Understanding the constructs of your own identity before you go abroad will provide you with a strong sense of self as you interact with your host culture. While you’re abroad, your identity may also play a large part in what shapes your experience, both in how you understand your host country, and how you fit in with your host culture. 

Studying abroad allows you the opportunity to think about your identity in a new cultural context. The new cultural settings you encounter may emphasize certain aspects of your identity in new or more prominent ways. You may feel more "American" or more "foreign," or you may find that your identity changes in your new environment.

Your experience will not be defined entirely by how you identify in the United States. We are products of our own experiences and cultures, and the different ways in which we categorize ourselves (or are categorized by others) are interwoven. Each aspect of who we are—what we believe, how we think, how we behave—will impact how we interact with others in a new cultural setting.

Questions to Consider

  • How do you identify yourself in the United States? How might that change abroad?
  • Which aspects of your identity are the most meaningful to you? 
  • What expectations and preconceived ideas do you have of your host culture?
  • How do you imagine yourself interacting in the host culture? 
  • How do you feel about leaving home and campus? What are you glad to leave behind? What do you think you’ll miss?
  • What ideologies, beliefs, and attitudes do you have that you will take with you abroad?
  • How will laws, attitudes, norms, or behavioral expectations in your host country affect you? Are there specific laws or attitudes regarding the ways in which you identify?
  • How flexible are you in the expression of your identity? Would you be willing to keep aspects of your identity private for safety, or change your clothing choices?
  • How might you feel about the diversity (or lack of diversity) among the other students on your program?
  • What resources will you need to be successful abroad, and what resources are available in your host country?
  • What do you hope to gain from your experience?
  • Imagine yourself after you return. What have you achieved? What will a successful experience abroad be? 

Privilege and Allyship

While you are abroad, be cognizant of how your identity influences your experience, interactions, and daily life. Recognize that your privilege may make your experiences different than your fellow students or locals, or may mean you have a very different experience than locals who do not come from the U.S.

If you want to support others whose identities may be marginalized at home or abroad, remember that being an ally is not a performance. Being an ally requires work and action. Educate yourself. Don’t invalidate what someone is feeling or take up too much space in the conversation. Apologize if you are insensitive. If appropriate, speak up to people who share your privilege if they are being insensitive.

Questions to Consider

  • What issues or problems might other students face that you haven’t thought about or noticed because of your privilege?
  • How would you react if someone on your program or in your host country was sexist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise discriminatory?
  • How can you be inclusive and supportive of others who do not share the same privileges as you?