Identities Abroad

It is very common for your own identities to shift during your time abroad. As these shifts occur, you have the opportunity to explore your own personal identity in the world and gain a more complex and nuanced understanding of what it means to be a global citizen.

Take a look at the Social Identity Wheel. This is a tool to help you reflect on:

  • The various ways you identify socially,
  • How those identities become more visible or keenly felt at different times, and
  • How these identities impact the way others may perceive or treat you.

Attention from others

While abroad you may find that there is more openly expressed curiosity about you and your background. The host culture’s lack of familiarity with your background may manifest in both overt and subtle displays of prejudice and intolerance. Try to remember that these actions may stem more from a lack of experience with people of diverse backgrounds and identities, rather than from malice or ill will.

With that said, encountering increased attention, insensitivity, or outright discriminatory language and behavior in your host community can be disconcerting and disappointing. It can be frustrating to be told that such attitudes and behaviors are generally regarded as “acceptable” because they are “just part of the culture” or “we just don’t meet people like you very often”.

How to handle a negative experience

If a negative experience does occur, you should assert yourself and remain confident yet polite. In non-threatening situations, address the comment or concern calmly. Invite discussion. But if the situation turns violent, be sure to remove yourself from it. Talk to your program director, your teachers, your host family, and your friends about any discrimination that you might experience. They not only can serve as a critical support network and get you help if needed, but also help you better understand the situation and underlying issues.

We highly recommend that you do some research on the sociopolitical history, dominant belief systems, and cultural norms of your host community and that you talk to students who have studied abroad in the same location so you can better prepare yourself for the attitudes and behaviors you may encounter.

Research your host culture

Different identities will receive different types of attention while abroad. Here are some resources to help you do your own research into your host culture: