The Office of International Education understands that studying abroad is a personal experience as well as an academic one. In keeping with the global mission of the university, we want every student to be included, assured and aware as they travel abroad and benefit from the transformative experience of life in another culture. Our Diversity and Inclusion section is geared towards giving students the support and guidance they need to embrace themselves as individuals both at home and abroad. The sites and articles below are just a few of the many online resources available to help you navigate your identity in new environments abroad.
The world is a broad and complex place, which is why the OIE team wants every student to experience the true cross-cultural engagement that each of our programs aims to provide. However, we understand that we don’t travel as individual blank slates. Instead, when we travel, we carry along with us a broad range of identities, ideas, and expectations. And the people in the new places where we study also have their own identities, ideas, and expectations—some of which will be about “us.” That “us” can be “Americans,” “Black women,” “trans men,” or any of the myriad sets of intersecting identities that comprise the St. John's community abroad. So even though a group of students may attend the same program, each student will have a unique, individual experience... And of course, just as in the U.S., some identities may present more or different challenges in a new context than others. That’s just one of the reasons that a new culture can be both freeing and hard to navigate, and why cultural misunderstandings arise.
For example, for many of us, we first confront assumptions about the U.S. when we first live abroad; we may never have contemplated some of the ideas presented to us and may not know how to reconcile them with our perceptions of ourselves. After feeling marginalized at home, some students may encounter a misperception that ALL students from the U.S. are privileged, regardless of identity or background.
OIE strongly encourages students to take some time to reflect upon and research some of the following questions focused on identity and expectation when preparing to study abroad. The more you prepare, the more you will gain from your experience while abroad (and the fewer roadblocks you will encounter). We want to help you make the most of your program!
How will aspects of my identity be perceived abroad?
How might my cultural background make studying abroad easier for me than for other students in my program?
What stereotypes about the different parts of my identity exist in the country I am going to?
How will I be able to explore different aspects of my “home” identity through study abroad?
Will I represent a minority while abroad in a different way than I may at home?
What stereotypes do I have about people living in the country where I am going?
Where did I get these stereotypes, and what subcultures exist in my host country to help change or expand that view?
How much of my identity do I plan on sharing with others while abroad, either with colleagues from the program or new friends I make abroad?
Are there cultural norms, social attitudes and/or laws that could affect my safety with regards to expressing my identity abroad?
Am I to prepared to educate others about my identity who may not understand or be familiar and recognize them as a resource for understanding my experience?
Who will I turn to for support while abroad?
What strategies do I have when I feel that others may not support me?
How can I be an ally both to others like me and others not like me?
Who else might be sensing challenges abroad?
What resources are available abroad related to my identity? What extra steps should I consider in preparing for daily life abroad?
Talk to students with similar backgrounds who have already participated in study abroad.
Reach out to OIE to speak to one of our peers, our advisors or Global Ambassadors. Contact us at [email protected], and let us know your questions or concerns.
For a podcast on personal stories related to the shifts in identity from country to country, check out “Our Boxes, Our Selves” from Rough Translation on National Public Radio. “Boxing Back”, another episode of Rough Translation, explores the global space of not being aligned to anyone “box”, whether ethnical, racial or of national origin, and the freedoms that can give you.
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