Students of Color

Ethnic Identity Abroad 

For many students of color, studying abroad may feel like an enormous undertaking, and to some, it may not feel like it is something meant for them. At St. Thomas, we want all students to feel that they are welcome and supported through their study abroad experience. While many students of color study abroad without incident, as in the US, perceptions of your identity may vary from what you are used to. You may experience unexpected or more intense instances of discrimination. Understanding your host country’s cultural and social climate can better prepare you to for such experiences and provide you with appropriate response strategies. If issues about race, ethnicity, and encountering discrimination abroad are a concern of yours, please keep in mind they will vary depending on your host nation and your own cultural identity development. For more information about how different racial groups have experienced their study abroad programs, please take a look at the resources linked below.  

(Adapted from UC Davis Study Abroad and Denison Study Abroad)

Student Testimony

My study abroad experience was absolutely amazing, no doubt, but to say that it was easy would be a lie. Sometimes native Koreans didn’t believe that I was Korean because I was too tan and Americans couldn’t understand why I didn’t use my chopsticks right. Every day I questioned which one of my identities was the one I wanted to represent and I spent a lot of my mental time wondering which identity was the right one.  

When I returned home, I was reminded that my identity struggle wasn’t restricted by country lines. Every day I’m reminded that I associate with two different cultures, but every day I’m exploring how those cultures blend into one and represent me. Not me as a Korean, and not me as an American, but me as a human being. I’ve learned that identity isn’t dependent on who your parents are or where you’re from or what people expect of you, but it’s about what you do with your life in relation to those aspects of who you are.” -Jenny, CIEE Seoul, South Korea 

Questions to consider

  • How is my ethnic group perceived in the host community? What types of stereotypes or assumptions might I encounter?
  • What is the historical context of racism or ethnic tension in the host country?
  • Are issues of racism/ethnic discrimination influenced by immigration in the host country?
  • If you encounter offensive comments or behavior, is the person merely curious or do they have bad intentions?
  • Will there be other students of color on my program?
  • Will I be part of a majority or minority racial or ethnic group abroad? How might my American or national identity come into play?
  • Will there be other students of color on my program?
  • Who do I contact if I experience discrimination while abroad?
  • What social supports are available in my host destination or through my program? Are there organizations, events or neighborhoods that relate to my race or ethnicity?
Off-Campus Resources
  • Asian-Pacific-American Study Abroad 
  • Hispanic-Latino-American Study Abroad  
  • African-American Study Abroad 
  • Native-American Study Abroad 
  • Minority Students Abroad 
  • Diversity Abroad: Diversity Abroad is the leading international organization which connects diverse students with international opportunities. Includes articles, student blogs and scholarship resources. 
  • CIA World Factbook: Under your country’s page, research the “People and Society” section, where you can find the breakdown by ethnic group, religion, and race. 
  • Center for Global Education PLATO Project for Learning Abroad Addresses some of the issues and challenges that may arise during a study abroad experience related to ethnicity with links to additional information, resources, and scholarships. 
  • ES Abroad Country-Specific Resources: It may also be helpful to read the first-person experiences of other people of color who have traveled or studied abroad. Below is a selection of student or travel blogs to get you started but we encourage you to seek out other blogs, podcasts, news sources and websites as well as talk to other students or color who have previously studied abroad about their experiences. 
  • IFSA-Butler: Unpacked: A Study Abroad Guide for Students like Me. Articles and commentary, mainly from a student perspective about study abroad and issues of identity and diversity
Travel Narratives