UMD: A Globally Connected University

‘Unpacking Before You Pack’ Explores Student Identity and Diversity in the Context of Education Abroad

‘Unpacking Before You Pack’ Explores Student Identity and Diversity in the Context of Education Abroad

By Conrad Zeutenhorst

The Education Abroad Office recently hosted “Unpacking Before You Pack” to celebrate and explore the importance of students’ social identities in the context of study abroad. Held in the Global Crossroads Atrium of H.J. Patterson Hall, the event featured a Diverse Terps Abroad student panel and guest speakers.


Education Abroad hosted the event to celebrate the diverse identities of UMD study abroad students, and to discuss the role that social identities play within international and higher education spaces. Students of color and other minority students are underrepresented in study abroad. Only 30 percent of the 332,727 U.S. students who studied abroad in 2016-2017 identified as students of color, the Institute for International Education reported, a figure reflected by UMD’s study abroad enrollment numbers (Open Doors, 2018). Because these numbers are not representative of minority student enrollment in U.S. higher education, events like “Unpacking Before You Pack” are crucial for drawing attention to the issue and recognizing the significance of diversity in students’ identities and study abroad experiences.


Guest speaker Dr. Candace Moore from the College of Education set the tone for the evening with an opening talk themed “My story matters, too,” Followed by a group reflection on identity development with Education Abroad adviser Malik Blue.Dr. Moore then joined Jazmin Pichardo from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion in moderating a discussion with the Diverse Terps Abroad student panel, which was composed of study abroad alumni and international exchange students, and delved into exploring the intersections of identity within study abroad.  


Building on the theme “My story matters, too,” Pichardo continued by asking the student panelists a series of questions: Were there hesitations to study abroad? What aspects of their personal identities were [received] differently abroad than in the United States? Describe a moment of joy during the experience.


“When you’re taken away into a new place, you are forced to find yourself,” one student said, reflecting on their personal identity development. “I’ve learned who to be as a person.”


Another student, thinking about what they had gained from studying abroad, said, “I’m still learning to figure out who I am but I’ve learned so many aspects of myself in terms of resilience and flexibility and adaptability.”


The students responded with thoughtful accounts of their experiences, sharing their insights and words of wisdom with the audience. In closing, the moderators encouraged everyone to remember that their stories matter, and to find ways to continue the discussion around identity.


Interested in getting to know some of our study abroad students? Education Abroad features #TerpsAbroad student profiles on its website, which you can filter by academic college or social identity. You can also follow the experiences of the diverse community of UMD study abroad students using #TerpsAbroad on social media.