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Race and Ethnicity

Studying abroad is a wonderful opportunity to learn about yourself and reflect on your identity. However, some students face the challenge of going to a country where their race or ethnicity is viewed as the minority, often for the first time in their lives, and how they are defined and perceived by others will vary by country and culture. This can lead to both positive and negative interactions in the host culture. You may have the opportunity to participate in thoughtful dialogue about how different identities are perceived abroad. However, there also may be moments where you are asked uncomfortable or inappropriate questions, whether that is done by the person asking with good intentions or not. Assess the situation and decide what you feel is the appropriate way to respond. Remember, your safety is what is the most important.

One way to help you prepare is to do as much research as you can on your host country so that you can at least have a general idea on what to expect. We also recommend speaking with the Study Abroad Advisor if you have questions or concerns. Diversity Abroad also provides a number of resources to help guide minority students through their time abroad. One of these resources is a list of questions that will allow you to help reflect on what your racial and ethnic identity will mean when going abroad:

Questions for Students
  • How is my ethnic group perceived in my host country? What kind of stereotypes are there? 
  • How should I react if I find something to be offensive? 
  • Is the person curious or do they have bad intentions? 
  • Has my host family housed minority students before? If not, will this be an issue for them? 
  • Am I used to being part of the majority at home but will be a minority abroad? Or vice versa? 
  • Will there be other minority students in my program? 
  • Who will I contact if I do face racial or discriminatory incidents? 
  • Does my program have support staff that will understand and help me through any racial or discriminatory incident I may face? 
Tips forStudents
  • Remember that people abroad have different cultural norms and tend to be less “politically correct” than people in the U.S. 
  • The more you integrate with the culture the less you'll stand out, but your skin, hair, or other features may still attract attention. 
  • Research what kinds of contact and relations your minority group has had in your host country. You may also want to research immigration in general. 
  • Be aware that people may generalize or incorrectly identify your ethnicity. 
  • Learn more about other minority students’ experiences abroad. For example, you can talk to other minority students who have studied abroad or find information online. 
  • Build a support network among other study abroad students so that if you do face racial or discriminatory incidents you'll have support to deal with it. 
  • Be prepared if an incident does arise, but don't go abroad expecting racism or discrimination.  

In addition to Diversity Abroad, there a number of other resources we strongly recommend:
1. All Abroad  Like Diversity Abroad, this website provides a number of resources and student stories for those of diverse backgrounds who will be studying abroad.

2. PLATO (Project for Learning Abroad, Training, and Outreach) provides a an extensive list of articles for students of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds.  3. Michigan State University: Scholarships for Multicultural Students lists a number of scholarship opportunities for students of multicultural backgrounds to apply for.

If you have additional questions or concerns, you are also more than welcome to talk with a Study Abroad Advisor in our office or visit the Center for Diversity, Pluralism, and Inclusion