The Office of International Education is committed to helping all students access international education. We hope that every student will have the resources they need to succeed during their study abroad experience. Students have many different reasons for choosing to study abroad: they may have dreamed of visiting a specific place since reading about it in childhood; have ancestral roots in a location; or have selected a program that fits well with their academic or professional interests. In almost every case, students look forward to their time abroad with a sense of excitement for the travel adventures they anticipate ahead.
We don't often talk about the challenge that study abroad can pose for each individual. Just looking around at social media, the images we see of international travel gives a sense of whimsy, joy, and excitement. Almost every student, however, may find themselves grappling with being stereotyped for the way they look or where they were born. Even students from the majority may find themselves, perhaps for the first time, having to think of their identity and how the world around them perceives them. Students from underrepresented groups may find themselves, once again, having to ask questions about how a new place or culture thinks of them.
These experiences, though challenging, are an important part of travel generally and can deeply impact students, changing the way that they interpret their world, their home country, and themselves. This page is designed to help students navigate their identities and learn how they can prepare for their experience with that identity in mind.
Interested in learning about identities generally? These resources can help you examine outward and inward identities:
Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) students may have questions about what their study abroad experience will be like: depending on their destination overseas, they may or may not appear as a minority. The following resources could be helpful as students prepare for their international program.
The Office of International Education is a safe and inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ students and their allies. People identifying as LGBTQ+ experience different levels of acceptance around the world. It is always best to learn more about the social climate, laws, and norms for personal interactions in other cultures.
Diversity Abroad: LGBTQ+ Students Abroad
LGBTQ Guide to Travel Safety
LGBT Guide for Education Abroad by Kristen Shalosky (USF)
LGBTQ+ Country Guide (Chapman University)
Meaningful Travel Tips and Tales: LGBTQ Traveler’s Perspectives
Maps - Sexual Orientation Laws Abroad
US Department of State Information for LGBTI Travelers
US Department of State Information for Gender Transition Applicants
Transequality: Know Your Rights: Passports
Transequality: Know Your Rights: Airport Security
First generation college students are usually the first student in their family to attend college and also may be the first student in their family to travel internationally. The Office of International Education strives to answer questions about study abroad to both the student and their supporters.
Students with ability impairments have many questions about what resources are available in destinations around the world and whether their experience abroad will be different from their experience here in the US. We encourage students to utilize the following resources and to also discuss their needs with the Office of International Education.
Heritage seekers are students who study abroad in a location that is connected to their ancestral or cultural heritage. Studying abroad as a heritage seeker can be fulfilling and challenging: they may be welcomed by the local community but still considered an American first.
Study abroad is meant to allow students to explore diverse cultures and people around the world. However, most participants in study abroad remain white, female, and middle class. Universities and organizations around the world have made commitments to make programs more accessible to underrepresented students, but the fact remains that students with privilege are most likely to participate.
While it is exciting to travel and experience new cultures, there can also be challenges to living in a new place. Participating in study abroad programs means encountering cultural differences every day-- these differences can force us to examine our identities and confront the privilege we have. Poverty, prejudice, and oppression exist all over the world, and may be even more evident in a new place; it is uncomfortable to wake up to these things while on what we expect to be a grand adventure. While experiencing a new place, we may also wake up to the power we hold in our own country and communities.
As travelers, we may hold certain privileges over others because of the way we look, the passport or currency we carry, or the language we speak. Other students on the same study abroad program, as well as individuals living in the host country, may have very different lived experiences because of their identities. As an individual with privilege, it is important to think about these questions (adapted from PennAbroad Privilege and Allyship resources):
- What identities do I hold? Do these identities change when I study abroad?
- What privileges have allowed me to study abroad?
- How might people in my host country view me? Do I hold privilege in my host community?
- How could students with different identities be experiencing things differently?
- How can I be inclusive and supportive to others who do not have the same privilege as me?
Confronting Privilege in Study Abroad
Privilege and Study Abroad
Privilege and Allyship
White Privilege in Study Abroad: The Racial Divide
Traveling as a White American is a Privilege Most People Don't Have
Traveling While Brown: Journeys in Privilege, Guilt, and Connection
Examining My Privilege as an American Studying Abroad in Paris
7 Ways to Check Your Privilege While Traveling