Exploring U-M’s Opportunities Around the World

 

Race & Ethnicity Abroad

Student Experiences Abroad

Expressing your racial/ethnic identity can be a significant source of growth, challenge, and reflection in a new and unfamiliar environment. While it’s possible you have experienced navigating challenges associated with your race and ethnicity on campus, there will likely be a different context when navigating your host country. When preparing for an experience abroad, it is important to consider how your racial/ethnic identity will be perceived within the context of your host country.

    1. "Over the course of two summers I traveled to Peru and Trinidad and Tobago. I found traveling abroad as a student of color was an advantage. Locals approached me with more comfort, and patients at clinics in both countries were more comfortable working with me because I had skin more similar to theirs. So don't be afraid to travel and get out there no matter what your skin tone is!"

    2. "Going into this experience, I was very apprehensive about how I would be treated in a country where African-American people are rarely seen. However, after spending six amazing weeks in Spain, I can say that it is a country that is very welcoming and open to all people. At no point did I ever feel isolated or mistreated because of my race, which allowed me to have a more authentic and intimate connection to Spanish culture and its people."

    3. "As a Black woman abroad, I often find myself in situations where there is no one else like me. In these moments, attention is often called to my hair or skin. Usually these reactions are positive and I have realized that locals are learning from me while I am also learning from them." 

    4. "Travel is an education on self-reliance and friendship."

    5. "A full semester of self-discovery, self-reflection, and self-love through experiencing new people, unique places, and mouth-watering food."

    Planning your Experience Abroad

    Use this page to explore how your race and ethnicity can present opportunities, challenges, and unexpected interactions while traveling abroad.

    How do I consider my racial/ ethnic identities while planning my experience abroad?

    As you consider and prepare for an international experience, use the following questions as a guide. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list and you may relate to multiple identities. You are encouraged to discuss these topics in-person with an education abroad advisor in your school or college. The Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs (MESA) can also provide guidance and resources as you prepare for your experience.

    • Consider the cultural attitudes of your host country
      • How does my host country perceive and treat individuals of my racial/ethnic identity?
      • How is race/ethnicity understood in my host country?
    • Research the history and social climate of your host country
      • What is the historical context around race/ethnicity in the country I am interested in visiting? How might this affect my interactions there and the way people perceive me?
      • Are there local tensions in my host country around my social identity groups that might influence my experience abroad?
    • Examine travel logistics
      • What is my citizenship status? What effect will this have on my ability to travel?
    • Consider how you will manage potential shifts in perception
      • In the U.S., you may be identified first by your race. When you’re abroad, it is possible that you may be identified first as an American.
        • How will I prepare for this possible shift in the way others perceive my identity?
        • Will I be in a country where I will be perceived to be in the majority? Or the minority? How will these experiences differ from being in the U.S.?
    • Understand your own expectations as a Heritage Seeker. Heritage Seekers are individuals who travel to countries where they have ancestral connections.
      • What am I looking to get out of this experience? What views does the host culture have of heritage seekers?
      • What are my expectations for how I will be received by members of my host culture? What will I do if their reaction doesn’t meet my expectations?

    What resources are available to me?

    Researching the social, political, and cultural context of how different racial and ethnic identities may be interpreted abroad can play an important role in where you choose to travel. Attitudes and perceptions around race, ethnicity, and national identity vary widely around the world and it’s key that you have an understanding of how you may be perceived and/or treated in your host country due to your identities.

    Take a deeper dive into issues of race and ethnicity in international travel by exploring the following resources:

    Download the Race & Ethnicity Abroad flyer for additional questions and considerations for traveling abroad. Bring this resource with you when meeting with an academic advisor, education abroad advisor, or other U-M office.

    How might my racial/ ethnic identity impact my experience abroad?

    Navigating your racial/ ethnic identity in another country may be similar to your experience in the U.S. or the complete opposite. For example, you may experience a greater sense of community overseas, encounter increased racism, or a combination of both. Furthermore, your nationality (typically, the country stated on your passport) may even take precedence while you are abroad. You are encouraged to discuss these topics in-person with an education abroad advisor in your school or college. The Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs (MESA) can also provide guidance and resources as you prepare for your experience. Talking with other students of similar racial/ethnic backgrounds who have traveled overseas can be a great resource to help you become more aware of these new dynamics and give you some ideas about how to navigate your specific identities in a new culture.

    I worked hard to get to U-M. Why would I study abroad and how do I get my family’s support?

    Like coming to U-M, studying abroad can provide tools to enhance the skills that you will need to advance in your future career. Studying abroad can provide many opportunities to gain perspective on how your host country addresses certain areas in relation to your field of study, all while allowing you to foster meaningful intercultural relationships within your host country.

    If you’re a first-time traveler, health and safety concerns may very well be on your family’s mind. It’s important to communicate with your family during every step of the application process and education abroad advisors are here to help you address any questions or concerns you or your family may have prior to departure. Here are just a few points you may want to consider talking to your family about: All U-M affiliated programs have been carefully vetted by departments/units/ colleges. U-M offers affordable health insurance for all students traveling internationally. It is likely that U-M affiliated programs work with third-party providers that can assist you on the ground during your program. Lastly, if your program is led by a U-M faculty, you’ll be traveling with someone experienced who has likely planned out a detailed agenda that includes excursions and curriculum.

    What else do I need to consider in regard to racial/ ethnic identity and travel abroad?

    Researching the social, political, and cultural context of how different racial and ethnic identities may be interpreted abroad can play an important role in where you choose to travel. Attitudes and perceptions around race, ethnicity and national identity vary widely around the world and it’s key that you have an understanding of how you may be perceived and/or treated in your host country due to your identities.

    • Cultural Context
      • Perceptions of your racial or ethnic identity can vary across contexts, which may lead to assumptions about your heritage, nationality, language ability, and more. Consider how you will feel if:
        • You are traveling from one country to another while abroad and suddenly shift from being in the minority to the majority, or vice versa.
        • Someone in your host country assumes you can speak or write a language based on your visible race or ethnic identity.
        • You are treated differently because you are attending a higher education institution in the United States.
    • Nationality vs. racial identity
      • In the U.S., you may be identified first by your race. When you’re abroad, it is possible that you could be identified first by your nationality. Others may ascribe a nationality based on your visible identity such as how you dress, how you speak, mannerisms, etc. How will you prepare for this possible shift in the way others perceive your identity?
    • Majority vs. minority
      • Your host community/ culture may have a different view on nationality and race, therefore, their reactions may be different from what you experience in the U.S. Asking questions and engaging in a meaningful dialogue with a local can be a great intercultural learning opportunity for yourself and the host community. Will you be in a country where you will be perceived to be in the majority or minority? How will these experiences differ from being in the U.S.?
    • Heritage seeker
      • Students seeking international experiences as a way to explore their own roots are considered heritage seekers. Your experience with a certain culture gives you a unique perspective and can serve as an advantage in your immersion experience. However, depending on the cultural context, the response of your host country may not be what you expected. Though you hold a connection, you will want to be prepared that your host country may still perceive you as a foreigner. What are your expectations for how you will be received by members of your host culture?
    • Own your identity
      • Owning and navigating your identity abroad can be an important aspect of your experience. Students of all racial/ethnic backgrounds travel abroad frequently, and while you may have unique experiences due to your identities, these can be opportunities for growth. Set yourself up for success abroad by taking ownership of your experience and planning as much as you can before you depart. Research your host country, connect with on-campus resources, and plan how you will stay in touch with your support system while away from home.

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