Heritage Seekers

Many students choose to study abroad to learn more about their ancestry — these students are known as heritage seekers. Seeking information about your heritage can provide you with a first-hand account of your ancestry and new insights into your family's language and culture. Often going to your ancestral homeland can be a very emotional experience, because you choose the location for academic fit as well as personal curiosity. Some students will be able to meet with relatives, while others will just be learning more about their ancestral history or learning the language of their families. In the same regard, some students come home feeling more connected to their ancestral roots while some students have more appreciation for their American roots.

Heritage students preparing to go abroad should be aware that many of the ideas and presumptions that they have about their host country will be challenged, so it is important to go to the country with an open mind and minimal expectations. You should be prepared to be seen as an outsider, although often a welcome one, in the local community. While you can gain rewarding insight into your heritage and family, be modest in your expectations about fitting in or having an instinctive understanding of your host country. One of the best things heritage learners can do is forget everything that they know about their home country and enter the country with an open mind.

Think about:

  • How will my heritage, race, and ethnicity be perceived in the country where I study?
  • Am I used to being a minority in the U.S? If so, how will it feel to be part of the majority abroad?
  • Will there be other heritage students in my program?
  • Will I be an ethnic minority in my host country? What percent of the population have a similar ethnic heritage to my own?
  • How will I react if confronted with something offensive?

Before You Go:

  • Research the customs and culture of your host country. There might be great differences between what you think you know about the home country based on how you were raised and what it is actually like.
  • Learn more about other heritage students’ experiences abroad.

Heritage Seeker Resources: