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Race & Ethnicity

Racial and ethnic relations vary by culture, meaning that while you’re abroad, you may be part of an ethnic minority or majority for the first time in your life or have to think about your identity in a new way.

For instance, if you’re visiting a country where you have ethnic or racial roots, you may have to consider the local norms and expectations in ways that other students with different backgrounds may not. Remember that in countries with ethnic or racial conflicts, you may be inadvertently identified with one group or another simply based on your appearance. On the other hand, perhaps you’ll be considered American first, and your ethnic or racial identity will be secondary.

You can prepare yourself for the situations you may encounter by researching the minority, majority, and plurality racial and ethnic composition of your host country and exploring its history of racial and ethnic relations.

Learn about Your Host Country

  • Read information on the topic, if available, on the official government website of your host country.
  • Look at international news sources like The Economist to get a sense of current political and societal issues in your host country.
  • On the CIA World Factbook website, look for your host country’s page and research the “People and Society” section, where you can find the breakdown by ethnic group, religion, and race.
  • Visit the PLATO (Project for Learning Abroad, Training, and Outreach) resource page about diversity in study abroad, with information for African-American, Asian/Pacific Islander American, Hispanic-American, and Native American students preparing to study abroad.
  • Unpacked: A Study Abroad Guide for Students Like Me
  • Diversity Abroad Student Perspectives: The Benefits of Being a Minority Abroad
  • Be sure to look at the student evaluations for your program to find helpful information and advice from Northwestern students who have already studied abroad.

Questions to Ask

  • Where do people of my race/ethnicity fit into my host country’s society? Am I likely to be a target of racism/classism or am I going to be treated the same way in my host country as I am in the US?
  • What are the cultural norms of my host country? Are there religious/cultural institutions or rituals that they adhere to?
  • What is the history of ethnic or racial tension in the country? Is the situation currently hostile to members of a minority race, majority race or particular ethnicity or religion?
  • Are issues of racism/ethnic discrimination influenced by immigration in my host country? How do politicized immigration concerns fuel racial tensions? What is the character of immigrant communities?
  • Are there laws in the host country governing race relations? Ethnic relations? What protections are offered to ethnic or racial minorities?

Identify Resources

  • What are the ethnic, racial, religious, gender identities that characterize you? Reflect and learn how you can expect to be treated in your host country based on these characteristics.
  • Social supports in your host country and at home will help you navigate a new culture that will likely include new race/ethnic relations. Know whom to contact when you feel like your race or ethnic background are discriminated against while abroad.
  • What are the opportunities you will have as a racial/ethnic minority – either in the US or in your host country or both – studying abroad? Are there funding opportunities? Research opportunities for your thesis or capstone undergraduate project? Contact the Office of Fellowships and undergraduate departments like International Studies and language departments to gain feedback from them.
    • Look into these outside funding opportunities:
    • Diversity Abroad Scholarship: Offers ten scholarships of $500 to US minorities studying abroad
    • IIE Gilman Scholarship: Offers 2,300 scholarships of up to $5,000 to students eligible for Federal Pell Grants and seeks to support underrepresented students who study abroad.

Discuss Your Study Abroad Plans