Office of International Programs

Identity and Culture Abroad

Students abroad face a new cultural context that includes different historical and cultural understandings of diversity and inclusion around issues like race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and disability. Customs, beliefs, laws, facilities, and social practices are likely different than in the U.S.  Students are often concerned about how they will be perceived in their host country.  Sometimes students have the experience of being in the minority for the first time.  Others are concerned that their race, sexual orientation, language, ethnicity, religion, gender, etc. will impact their experience. 

Before you depart, think about what it is going to be like to be "you" abroad, the various ways you might identify yourself, and how these identities define you in the U.S. These definitions might change in your host country, and you may encounter stereotypes, questions, and curiosity surrounding your identities. Think about your expectations versus what the reality might be abroad, and be prepared if your experiences lead to feelings of frustration, isolation, and fatigue. However, while you may face challenges, remember that being in a new cultural context is a wonderful opportunity for change and growth — and it will provide you with a new perspective on the structure of different societies.

Below are a few things you can do to prepare yourself:

  • Read about the host country’s history, culture, laws, and demographics. If reading news articles, commentaries, or blogs, consider the lens through which the information was written
  • Reach out to students who have studied abroad in your host country (OIP can provide names of former study abroad students)
  • Make use of online resources, (even social media which may be less "filtered" than news sources in some countries, or may include current events/stories that aren't "news-worthy") that offer advice, personal narratives, and other information 


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