Identity-Based Resources for Study Abroad: Race and Ethnicity

Jalyn Shahid-EL, ’22, Fall 2021 in France

Racial and ethnic relations and perceptions often vary by culture and country. As you prepare to study abroad, researching your host country will be one of the best ways to understand attitudes toward people of different races and ethnicities. For some, you may find yourself in the racial or ethnic majority for the first time. For others, you may find yourself in the minority for the first time while studying abroad.

Meredith student abroad in France at Eiffel Tower.

Jalyn Shahid-EL, ’22, Fall 2021 in France

One commonly surprising aspect of study abroad is that, while in the U.S. you are likely categorized by your race or ethnicity first, while in your host country you will likely be seen as an American first. People may make assumptions about you based on your physical appearance, attempt to touch your skin or hair, ask to take photos with you, make offensive or insensitive comments or ask questions about your culture, physical features, or national origin. People may also show a sincere interest in your culture, but these questions, even when “well-meaning,” may still be unwelcome and uncomfortable.

Depending on where you study abroad, you may also feel a new sense of belonging, joy, or cultural understanding, and students sometimes discover a deeper connection with their identities during these experiences. 

As a student preparing to study abroad, it is important to know that while prejudices and racism may look different abroad than in the U.S., their impact can be just as harmful. The OIP aims to help students who are concerned about this possibility prepare for study abroad experiences that may be both challenging and rewarding.

Understanding how your race and ethnicity may impact your experience in your host country is an important step toward being safe on your program. If you have more questions about these issues, ask the OIP or your program staff for contact information for a BIPOC student who has returned from the program. And do not hesitate for a nanosecond to contact the OIP if you experience racism or microaggressions in your host country or within your study abroad group.

Questions to Consider

  • How do I decide which study abroad location is best?
  • Am I prepared to do pre-departure research before traveling abroad?
  • Which ethnic and racial groups do I identify with and how are they perceived in my host country?
  • What are the dominant racial and ethnic groups in my host country? Will I be in the majority or minority? How will this affect how I am treated?
  • What is the history of the host country in regard to race and ethnicity? How does it currently affect the climate in the host country today?
  • How might other parts of my identity in addition to my race and ethnicity affect my experience abroad?
  • What are the forms of self-care, joy, and belonging that support my well-being at home? Can I cultivate those same strategies or connections abroad?


IES Abroad Country-Specific Identity Resources: A Sampling



United Kingdom

  • BBC Asian Network | YouTube channel featuring British Asian news, shows, & podcasts  




South Korea




Other Resources