Students of Color Abroad
One gets a good look at one’s country from this perspective, and one learns to see one’s nation with double eyes, to feel what we have got and what we have not got. I’ve learned more about America in one month in Paris than I could in one year in New York. Looking at this country makes all the unimportant phases of the AMERICAN problem fade somewhat and render the true problem more vivid.” -Richard Wright
As you research study abroad programs and start the process, you may want to consider how your perceived ethnicity and identity might be understood differently abroad. Be aware of your own cultural assumptions and expectations, and do research on sites you might be considering so you know what to expect when you go abroad.
Ask your program coordinator to provide country-specific information on the racial climate in places you might be considering. Every study abroad program coordinator has access to the Diversity Network Country Climate Notes and can also provide resources and research on sites you might consider. We want to support you as much as possible, so please let us know what questions or concerns you have.
Thinking through how you will handle issues related to your identity and researching potential host countries will better prepare you to make an informed decision so you can maximize your international experience.
Questions to Consider When Choosing a Program
- How is my race/ethnicity perceived in countries I'm considering? Are there stereotypes associated with my race/ethnicity?
- Do any of the countries I'm considering have a history of prejudice/discrimination or acceptance/inclusion with my ethnic group?
- Am I going to be treated the same way abroad as I am in the US? Will I be perceived as a minority or majority for the first time?
- Is there a history of ethnic or racial tension in the countries I'm considering? If so, is the situation currently hostile to members of a minority race, majority race, or particular ethnicity or religion?
- Are there laws governing race relations? Ethnic relations? What protections are offered to ethnic or racial minorities?
- How will I react if I encounter racism or other discriminatory behavior?
- How will I feel if I am the only student of color in a cohort of other Americans on my program?
- KU Study Abroad Peer Advisors presentation on preparing to be a student of color abroad (.pptx)
- Diversity Abroad has a diversity and inclusion abroad guide for racial and ethnic minorities in study abroad.
- Black and Abroad provides stories, tips, and journeys from a community of black travelers.
- PLATO: The Center for Global Education's PLATO Project (Project for Learning Abroad, Training, and Outreach) is an integrated study abroad training, certification, and diversity outreach program that provides comprehensive support resources for study abroad to all U.S. college and university students – with special support for underrepresented students.
Preparing to Depart
Although you may be classified somewhat generally by your race while in the United States, you may find that you are more often identified by your national identity (citizenship) or ethnic identity in your host country. If you travel to a location where you belong to the racial or ethnic majority, you may also find that expectations are different for you than they are for other Americans. Locals assume you speak the host language, or have the same cultural knowledge as them.
If you belong to a racial or ethnic group that is different than what is dominant in your host country, you might even find that locals will identify you by a completely different racial group than what you are used to, depending on the perceptions of different racial groups in your host country. You may find that local residents are curious about you, and express this curiosity in in ways that you might find insensitive or prejudiced.
It is important to prepare yourself for these possibilities, as well as do research on the ways your host country perceives different racial and ethnic identities.
Questions to Consider
- Is it likely that I will experience discrimination in my host country? Historically, have people of color experienced discrimination in my host country?
- What does it mean to be perceived as an American in my host country?
- How is my racial and/or ethnic group perceived in my host country? Of what stereotypes should you be aware?
- Will I be able to find appropriate hair care and skin care products and services in my host country?
- People may want to take photos of me, touch my hair or skin, or otherwise treat me in a way I find strange or upsetting. How do I plan to deal with these situations?
Tips for Handling Race and Ethnicity Abroad
You may find it empowering to facilitate conversations about race and ethnicity in your host country, however you are on your study abroad program to make the most of your adventure—don’t feel pressured to explain your identity to everyone all the time. Choose opportunities that suit you and that you have identified as safe and inclusive to have this conversation. It isn’t your job to educate everyone in your host country on your identity—you’re abroad for your own personal growth and education.
These conversations may take place with other students on your study abroad program. Some students find it more difficult to parse through issues with other students on the program than they do with individuals from the host country. Be prepared for these situations as well. If you ever feel unsafe, or feel that the discrimination is overwhelming, contact your on-site and KU program coordinators for assistance.
Diversity Abroad is a valuable resource geared towards promoting study abroad opportunities for multicultural students. The site includes blogs, profiles and forums from underrepresented students studying abroad, financial resources, and a searchable program database.
The All Abroad website offers mentors who are students, parents, and advisers and are comfortable with addressing diversity concerns in the context of learning abroad.
- Ten Reasons for African-American Students to Study Abroad
- Discrimination Issues
- Resources for African-American Students
Asian/Pacific American Students
- Ten Reasons for Asian/Pacific Islander Students to Study Abroad
- Discrimination Issues
- Resources for Asian/Pacific Islander Students
- Ten Reasons for Hispanic-American Students to Study Abroad
- Discrimination Issues
- Resources for Hispanic-American Students