Race and Ethnicity Abroad

Study abroad is an exciting experience, and you might be wondering about the people who will be part of your semester abroad, whether it is the other students in your program, the local university where you might be studying, or those living in the community. In every city around the world, there exists a unique racial and ethnic demographic. As you reflect on your own identity and how it might shape your study abroad experience, we encourage you to think about where you might find your sense of community and how you might connect with others who identify similarly to you, just as you’ve found your sense of belonging on campus.

It is important to consider your race and ethnicity when studying abroad and how these aspects of your identity might be perceived differently in other cultures. Race and ethnicity can take on new meaning when studying abroad, and cultural perceptions of ethnicity and race may vary significantly around the world. Understanding how your host culture embraces ethnicity, and how your racial or ethnic identity might shape your experience, will be helpful to reflect upon before you study abroad. Oftentimes, American students might be seen for their “American” identity before any other ethnic identities are considered. Even if you yourself are an international student you may be seen as American while abroad. We invite every student to review the resources below to reflect on and research how their study abroad experience might be influenced by their race and ethnicity; please reach out to our office if you have any specific concerns you’d like to discuss.

The following reflection questions may be helpful to consider:

  • How do I decide which location will be best for me?
  • Will there be other students of color in my program?
  • How does my host culture define race and ethnicity in their country?
  • How will I be perceived within my host community?
  • What are some common perceptions and stereotypes about my race or ethnicity in my host country?
  • Is there a history of racial or ethnic tension in my host country? Is the issue of immigration a source of racial or ethnic tension currently?
  • How might my perception of my racial or ethnic identity shape my experience abroad?
  • Will I be a part of a minority abroad, even if I am part of the majority at home or on-campus? How will this impact my experience?
  • Someone said something I find offensive, are there cultural differences that would lead someone to say something that they don’t see as harmful?
  • How should I react if I am in an uncomfortable situation?
  • Will I experience discrimination in my host country based on the color of my skin? What resources will I have while on site regarding discrimination?

Race & Ethnicity General Resources

When preparing for an international experience, we encourage you to learn about cultural differences in your host country and to reflect about how your own identity might translate abroad. Our office is here to support you throughout this process, and we recommend reviewing the resources below to get started:

Creating Space & Finding Community

In almost every major city around the world, you can find communities of people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. There is no better time than now for you to explore what the world has to offer.

You and your fellow program participants will be navigating and learning about a new place with different cultural norms. We encourage you to think about ways to give yourself some additional time and space to process your experience through the lens of your own identity as you are adjusting to your new community abroad. If you’re not comfortable being called something or being treated in any way that feels personal to you because of your race or ethnicity, you shouldn’t dismiss it because you might hear it’s “part of the host country’s culture.” Finding community outside of your program, through social media or other means, can be helpful for bolstering your sense of belonging in a new place and gaining a deeper understanding of the culture. Connecting with these communities can help you navigate these feelings when instances occur and support and guide you in setting boundaries.

If you don’t feel represented on this page or if you feel that other terminology should be included, please reach out to us to contribute your thoughts and ideas. This is a living document that is a work in progress that we’d like you to collaborate with us on. If you would like additional resources, or if you have found your own resources that other students could benefit from, please don’t hesitate to contact us at abroad@bu.edu.