Over a quarter of a million students studied abroad in the 2015-2016 school year, according to the Institute of International Education Open Doors Report. Of the 325,339 students who studied abroad, 28.4% identified as US racial or ethnic minorities. A common concern held by this population is the perception of their race in the host country. As you start your study abroad journey, it is important to reflect on how your race or ethnicity may be experienced, viewed, and understood differently abroad. Some students may be racial minorities at home but will be studying in a country where their race is the majority. Others may face becoming a racial minority for the first time. In any case, it is important that students be aware of their own expectations and cultural assumptions.

For some students, their race or ethnicity might provide a more challenging transition into the host country. In host communities where locals are not used to interacting with students who have different physical characteristics, they may make assumptions or be curious about your appearance. Some may be interested to learn more about your culture or ethnicity, but there may be others whose behavior toward you might make you uncomfortable. They may stare at you, try to touch your hair or your skin, or ask invasive questions about your cultural heritage, physical features, or national origins. In these situations, it is best to try to assume positive intent. You may find that confronting and learning to interpret their racial and ethnic perspective in a new context can help you grow and feel ultimately more secure with your identity. We encourage you to have early discussions about race and ethnicity, which can help you develop a realistic understanding of how your identity might play into the experience in different locations.

Think about:

  • How is my race/ethnicity perceived in my host country? Are there stereotypes associated with my race/ethnicity?
  • Does my host country have a history of prejudice/discrimination or acceptance/inclusion with my ethnic group?
  • Am I going to be treated the same way in my host country as I am in the US? Will I be in the minority/majority for the first time?
  • Is there a history of ethnic or racial tension in the country? If so, is the situation currently hostile to members of a minority race, majority race, or particular ethnicity or religion?
  • Are there laws in the host country governing race relations? Ethnic relations? What protections are offered to ethnic or racial minorities?
  • How will my personal racial or ethnic identity shape my experience abroad?
  • How will I react if I encounter racism or other discriminatory behavior?
  • How will I feel if I am the only minority in a cohort of other Americans on my program?

Before You Go:

  • Make use of online resources that offer advice, personal narratives, and other information
  • We also encourage students to reach out to the CMEA for further support.

Race and Ethnicity Resources: