Identities Abroad

There are many factors that can impact your time abroad which can include your nationality; religious, racial or ethnic heritage; gender; sexual orientation; mobility; accessibility and disability; and personality.

Who you are matters!

Attitudes toward different groups can vary greatly across cultures, and the way the host majority culture understands itself also differs around the world. No place in the world is monocultural, and preparing to live and study outside the United States in advance will not only ease the transition, but may greatly impact your choice of study abroad location. We strongly encourage students to embrace and educate themselves on the complexities of their own personal identity around the world!

To learn more about how your identity may be impacted during your time abroad, we recommend reviewing the Diversity Guide to Study Abroad as well as the resources below.

Veterans can experience life overseas in a different way than they may have experienced while in the military. Speak to your study abroad advisor about using VA payments for studying abroad. 

Many countries might have negative opinions about the US military. It is important to learn about the attitudes that the locals hold regarding the US military and to be mindful of their experiences. 

Questions to ask about the destination

  • Am I restricted to certain host programs?
  • What is the country's public perception of U.S. and its military?
  • Is there conflict between the U.S. and the country?
  • Is it safe to disclose my veteran status to the country's citizens?
  • Are there any safety considerations to be aware of?

Questions to ask about the host program

  • Will there be health and counseling services available?
  • How can I pay for the program since the GI Bill prohibits me from paying study abroad "fees" that are not required?
  • Can I use my VA benefits to help fund my study abroad experience? If so, do my courses need to apply to my degree program or can I take other courses of interest?
  • Do the courses need any special approval? Is my program able to make accommodations, including single rooms, private bathrooms and certain roommates? 

Questions to ask about yourself

  • Do you want/need to be a part of a veteran community?
  • Are there situations where you would not want to disclose your veteran status
  • How will you meet other veterans abroad?
  • How important is this to you?
  • If your VA benefits cannot be used, how will you pay for the experience? 

Web resources

There are many benefits in studying abroad and the experience will make you a stronger candidate for opportunities after graduation. Speak to your study abroad advisor about academic advising and financial aid. Also, speak to students who have studied abroad to give you firsthand advice about living abroad.

It can be daunting to have friends and family misunderstanding study abroad as a ‘vacation’. It is important to find people in your life that will support your decision to study abroad.

Questions to ask about the destination

  • What is life like in the country?
  • Are there any safety considerations to be aware of?

Questions to ask about the host program

  • Do you offer first-generation scholarships for study abroad or general scholarships?
  • What types of housing are available?
  • Is my program able to make accommodations, including single rooms, private bathrooms and certain roommates?
  • Will there be health and counseling services available?
  • What resources are available to me?

Questions to ask about yourself

  • How will I explain the process and my interest in studying abroad to family and friends?
  • Am I looking for an extremely different experience or to retain some cultural similarities?
  • How important is the physical distance from friends and family, and how will you keep in touch?
  • How will you involve your family in your decision to study abroad?
  • How will the study abroad experience contribute to the achievement of your academic and career goals?
  • What kind of experience are you looking for?
  • How do you plan to finance your time abroad?
  • What are my goals while abroad?

Web resources

Seeking to connect and learn about your ancestry and culture first hand can be an emotional experience. Many of the ideas and presumptions that you may hold about your host country will be challenged while abroad. Make sure to enter the country with an open mind. Some locals might accept you because of similarity in identity, but some might view you as an outsider due to the cultural difference. Many students develop a deeper understanding of their identities after studying abroad.

Questions to ask about the destination

  • Are there any safety considerations to be aware of?
  • How will I be perceived in my home country?
  • How should I react if I find something to be offensive?
  • Will I be accepted in my home country?
  • How does the country's culture compare to the culture I was raised with?

Questions to ask about the host program

  • Will there be other heritage students in my program?
  • Is there a language requirement?
  • Does the program offer the opportunity to work on community development projects, or to interact with the community in some way?
  • Are there excursions offered through the program, and if so, what are they?

Questions to ask about yourself

  • How will I handle it if relatives ask for money or other favors while I am there?
  • What do I hope to discover or achieve while abroad?
  • Am I used to being part of the minority at home?
  • How will it be to be a part of the majority abroad?
  • Do I speak the language of my host/home country?
  • How should I react if other students on the program look to me to be an "expert," even if I'm not?
  • How should I react if a local person expects more of me (e.g., culturally, behaviorally, linguistically, etc.) than other students who don't share the same cultural or ethnic heritage? 

Web resources

It is important for people with mental health considerations to prepare for the shift to a new environment and routine that is required in studying abroad. Speak to your study abroad advisor about what you need and what is available to you while abroad. It is highly encouraged to be transparent with your study abroad advisor regarding mental health considerations, as they can help point you towards appropriate in-country resources. Make sure that if you take any medication that it will still be available to you and that it not be altered or discontinued while abroad. If you are studying abroad, make sure that your insurance provides mental health benefits abroad.

Different countries might have limited knowledge of mental illness and the language barriers might make it difficult to seek out mental health professionals, make sure that you arrange a plan with your therapist or counselor while abroad.

Questions to ask about the destination

  • Are there any safety considerations to be aware of?
  • What are the health services like in the destination?
  • What cultural differences should I expect?
  • What is the culture's perception of medication, and what is/is not available?
  • What are the cultural attitudes toward people with mental health issues in the host country?

Questions about the host program

  • Will counseling and therapy be available, and is it offered in my native language?
  • If I take medications, will I have access to them or are there overseas equivalents?
  • Are there gyms or parks nearby that I can use for exercise?
  • Does the program provide a form of support system?
  • How do the classroom setting and physical environment differ?
  • If I take medication, will my insurance cover it?
  • Are there pharmacies close to the housing?
  • What is the policy for confidentiality?
  • What privacy protections apply abroad?

Questions to ask about yourself

  • Am I mentally prepared to live abroad?
  • Have I spoken to a trusted medical professional about traveling abroad?
  • How important is geographic closeness to friends and family?
  • How will I keep in touch with my support system at home?
  • Am I comfortable disclosing my mental health issue?
  • Do I have a support system I can rely on?
  • How do I adjust my medication regimen when crossing time zones?

Web resources

While you are abroad, people may make assumptions from your physical appearance. Many people might show curiosity about where you come from and ask questing about your culture. People in your host country might also feel comfortable sharing their views about your ethnicity and race whether positive or negative. There may be people who will stare at you or want to touch your hair or skin. Others might ask inappropriate or insensitive questions about your cultural and national origins.

Inform yourself about areas in your host countries and if they are exposed to racial and ethnic diversity. If they are not, many people will be curious about you, especially children. If you encounter someone being offensive to you, try to distinguish between someone who is genuinely curious and someone who might have bad intentions.  

Questions to ask about the destination

  • Are there any safety considerations to be aware of?
  • How is my racial/ethnic group perceived in my host country?
  • What kind of stereotypes exist there?
  • What are the cultural norms in the host country?
  • Will I experience any form of discrimination? 

Questions to ask about the host program

  • How should I react if I find something offensive?
  • How can I differentiate between curiosity and bad intentions?
  • If I am living with a host family, have they housed minorities before?
  • Will there be other minority students in the program?
  • Who will I contact if I experience racial or discriminatory incidents?
  • Does the program have a support staff that can help me if an incident occurs?
  • Are there additional funding sources I can look into?

Questions to ask about yourself

  • Am I used to being part of the majority at home but will be a minority abroad, or vice versa?
  • How can I prepare myself in case a racial or discriminatory incident occurs?
  • How can I explain to my family that a study abroad experience can contribute to the achievement of my career goals? 

Web resources

Studying abroad can be a great opportunity to learn about different religions. Before visiting a country, learn about the majority religion that is being practiced in the host country. If you are planning to practice abroad, ask your program staff or locals if there are any places of worship relative to you that you can practice safely. Even if you do not plan to practice abroad, this is a great opportunity to be an ally for your peers who might want some company to practice abroad. 

Another important aspect is learning about the degree of religious tolerance there is in your host country, especially in regard to your own beliefs or non-beliefs. The host country’s religious tolerance can inform you when and where it would be comfortable and safe for you to discuss your religious or non-religious views.

Questions to ask about the destination

  • What is the dominant religion in the host country?
  • Will I be a part of the religious majority or minority abroad?
  • Are there any laws regarding religion?
  • Is there a separation between religion and government?
  • How tolerant is the host country of other religions, or atheists and agnostics?
  • Is it safe for me to wear religious symbols?
  • Will my religious holidays be observed in the host country?

Questions to ask about the host program

  • How can I respect the host country's religion and participate in cultural events, even if I don't practice the religion?
  • What is the food through the program like and does it offer options for certain dietary and religious restrictions?
  • What places of worship exist and are they close to the housing? 

Questions to ask about yourself

  • How much do I know about the religion(s) of the host country and the role religion plays in its society?
  • How will I adjust my religious practice abroad?
  • If I plan to live in a homestay, am I open to living in a homestay with a diverse religious background from myself?

Web resources

Each country has a different attitude towards people with disabilities. In some countries, people assume that those with disabilities need and want help. Some locals might feel obligated to offer help. Talk to your program director or study abroad advisor to learn more about accessibility available in your host country. Visiting another country might be challenging. However, your experience will help you gain a new perspective on how other cultures treat people with disabilities.

Questions to ask about the destination

  • Are there any safety considerations to be aware of?
  • How are people with my disability viewed in the host country?
  • How accessible are places in the host country?
  • What are the physical environments like?
  • What medications are or are not available in the host country, and will my insurance cover them?

Questions to ask about the host program

  • How should I react if people give me unsolicited help?
  • Will my disability prevent me from participating in certain excursions?
  • What housing options exist?
  • What accommodations are available through the program? 
  • Is learning mainly through lecture, readings, independent research, etc.?
  • Is transportation available and accessible?
  • Does the program have a support staff that can help me if an incident occurs?
  • Are there additional funding sources I can look into?
  • If field trips are not accessible and are required for a course, will alternative access be available? 

Questions to ask about yourself

  • Am I willing to disclose my disability to others?
  • What type of support will I need while abroad?
  • Who will fund any special accommodations?
  • Will I need note takers for class?
  • Will I need a mobility assistant to help me?
  • Will I need extended time on assignments or exams? 

Web resources

Women’s experiences studying abroad varies due to each culture’s general attitudes regarding women. What is perceived to be common behavior for women in the U.S might not be perceived in the same light abroad. To avoid misinterpretations, women must educate themselves about the cultures they are visiting. Sometimes, the behavior of women that is considered ‘normal’ in the U.S. might have a sexual connotation in other cultures. A way to avoid misinterpretations is to speak to women who have been or are from your host county to discuss what behaviors are culturally appropriate. 

If you are thinking about being sexually active abroad, inform yourself about STD prevention, birth control availability, and safe sex practices in that country. Some cultures might perceive sex outside of marriage as extremely taboo. It is important to know a culture’s general attitudes of women, especially women who are sexually active. 

It can be frustrating to feel limited in being yourself abroad. However, dressing and acting like local women can prevent unwanted attention and misconceptions about who you are. Dressing and acting like the local women can give you an opportunity to connect with the women of those cultures directly without hesitation or discomfort for them.

Questions to ask about the destination

  • What are the gender roles in the host country?
  • Are there any safety considerations I should be aware of?
  • What are the standards of behavior in the culture?
  • What stereotypes of my gender exist in the host country?
  • How do women in the country commonly dress?
  • How do men and women commonly interact in the host country?
  • Are they segregated by gender?
  • How do men treat women in the host country?
  • Are there differences in political and social power based on gender?
  • How do national women react to sexual harassment?
  • Are birth control and toiletries accessible in the host country?

Questions to ask about the host program

  • How should I react if a sexist incident occurs?
  • Who can I talk to if I experience harassment?
  • Have other students experienced sexual harassment while abroad? 

Questions to ask about yourself

  • How do my personal values compare with my host country's attitudes about socially accepted gender roles?
  • Am I looking to date while there, and to what extent?
  • What boundaries will I have while abroad and how can I make them clear?
  • How do I see myself fitting in the host country's gender roles? 

Web resources

Questions to ask about the destination

  • What are gender relations like in your host culture?
  • What are the laws and cultural norms surrounding relationships and dating?
  • What laws govern the LGBTQ community in your host country?
  • What are social and cultural attitudes towards the LGBTQ community?
  • What may make the coming out process different in the host country compared to the U.S.?
  • Are there any safety considerations to be aware of?
  • What is the attitude of the local police towards LGBTQ visitors?
  • Are sexual orientations and gender identity openly discussed or more taboo in the host country?
  • How are public displays of affection (both heterosexual and homosexual) viewed by the host culture?

Questions to ask about the host program

  • How LGBTQ-friendly is the host institution?
  • What types of housing are available?
  • Is my program able to make accommodations, including single rooms, private bathrooms and certain roommates?
  • Are there LGBTQ friendly establishments near the program facilities?
  • Can and will the program staff help you identify them?
  • Does the study abroad program discuss LGBTQ considerations during orientation?
  • If you regularly use health and counseling services at home, will these be available abroad?
  • Will you need them abroad?

Questions to ask about yourself

  • How open do you want/need to be about your sexual orientation while abroad with friends, professors, and host family and program staff?
  • Do you want/need to be a part of a supportive LGBTQ community?
  • Are there organizations available for this?
  • If you were to travel to a location where you would need to hide your sexual orientation due to safety concerns in the host country, how would this impact your overall study abroad experience?
  • Are there situations where you would not disclose your sexual identity?
  • How will you meet other sexual minority students while abroad?
  • How important is this to you?
  • Will you disclose your sexual orientation prior to arrival with your host family or wait until you know them to decide how to proceed?

Web resources