UMD: A Globally Connected University
Students of Color Abroad
As a student of color in the US, it is possible you have given thought to what it means to be a minority and also how that impacts your daily life. When studying abroad, it is important to learn about how people of your racial/ethnic identity are perceived and treated. As you prepare for studying abroad, we are here to help and offer the questions and resources below as a starting point. As always, your EA advisor is available to assist you with your questions and navigate these resources.
Questions to Ask yourself and/or your Education Abroad Advisor
As a woman of color, I would definitely recommend being open-minded when abroad! There were a few experiences on my trip where discussions around British colonialism could have been heated, but we all tried to calmly understand each other's perspectives and we actually learned from each other.
- What are the cultural norms of my host country? Are there religious/cultural institutions or practices that they adhere to?
- What is the relationship between my host country and the United States?
- What types of experiences do students of color typically have on the programs (or in the country) I am considering?
- If I am the only member of my racial/ethnic group in my program, how will that impact my experience abroad?
- If staying with a host family, have they accommodated students of my race/ethnicity before? If not, will this be an issue for me or them?
- How are people of my race/ethnicity typically treated in my host country?
- What are my resources if I experience racial or discriminatory incidents?
- Who is perceived as an ethnic or racial minority in my host country, and how is that perception different than my experience as a person of color in the US?
- How is my racial or ethnic group perceived in my host country? What kinds of stereotypes exist about my racial or ethnic group?
- How might stereotypes about what Americans look like create assumptions about my identity?
- What is the history of ethnic or racial tension in the country? Is the situation currently hostile to members of a minority race or particular ethnicity or religion?
- Are issues of racism/ethnic discrimination influenced by immigration in my host country?
- How can I explain to my family that a study abroad experience can contribute to the achievement of my career goals?
- For heritage seekers: I will be studying in the country my parents are from, but I have never been there before and I don't speak the language. Can I contact other heritage students who may have done this before me so I can learn from their experiences?
- Research funding opportunities that you may qualify for as a racial/ethnic minority studying abroad – either in the US, in your host country, or both.
- Students with afro-textured hair may require services from stylists or salons that are not easily accessible abroad. Ask locals from the African diaspora who have similar textures or wear similar styles for recommendations. Also, do some research online. Don't forget to stock up on your preferred hair products in case they are not available abroad.
- You may experience a shift in privilege depending on where you travel. You may find that you have access to certain kinds of mobility that are not accessible to some communities abroad. For example, while you may not consider yourself economically privileged at home, you may be considered wealthy by that community's standards because of your ability to travel and pursue a college education in another country.
- In the U.S., your race/ethnicity may be a defining factor of your identity, but while abroad, you might be perceived as an American first.
- In contrast, assumptions about what Americans look like may cause others abroad to question the fact that you're an American. They might ask you questions about your nationality and cultural heritage, even after you've already stated that you are an American. Recognize that these questions are a result of a lack of awareness about the the racial and ethnic demographics of the U.S. rather than prejudice.
- When visiting racially/ethnically homogeneous areas, you may encounter curious locals who have never seen people who look like you, and so they might stare at you excessively, take photos of you, or even try to touch you/your hair. If it makes you uncomfortable, politely express your discomfort and they will most likely respect your boundaries.
- Social support in your host country and at home will help you navigate a new culture that will likely include new racial/ethnic relations. Know whom to contact when you feel like your race or ethnic background are discriminated against while abroad.
- Having a support system of family, friends, and/or romantic partners may also help you deal with feelings of isolation and culture shock.
- Knowing the social and historical situation in your host country can help you prepare for the transition from the US and back. This helps you be prepared if any incidents arise, however don’t expect prejudice to happen.
- Diversity Abroad resource guide: Racial & Ethnic Minority Students Abroad.
- The Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) on campus provides an intergroup dialogue program called “Words of Engagement.” This can provide an opportunity to discuss race and ethnicity with peers to help you prepare for conversations you may have abroad. For more information, click here.
- Race Abroad for Americans of Color Preparing to Live Abroad, published by Glimpse shares common considerations and concerns for students of color from the United States relative to studying abroad.
- UMD’s Office of Multicultural Involvement & Community Advocacy (MICA) provides many services for students of color on campus, including personal advising.
- See the “Money Matters” tab on the UMD Education Abroad website for information about the cost of study abroad, financial aid, and scholarships.
- Glimpse Abroad: Culture Shock
- Glimpse Abroad: American Identity Abroad