Identity and Inclusion

Identities and culture

Every student, even if in the same program or country, will experience studying abroad differently. Commonly held beliefs and values may be very different country by country and can affect your experience. It is important to research cultural expectations in your destination country and how you can ensure you are prepared for any potential challenges.

Consider the followingStudent posing with cultural pottery on head

  • Race, ethnicity, and nationality abroad
  • Gender expression abroad
  • LGBTQIA+ abroad
  • Religious and spiritual experiences abroad
  • Disabilities and accessibility abroad
  • First-generation and non-traditional student experiences abroad

Cultural norms around gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and others may vary greatly from country to country. Sometimes the places with extreme differences are easier to handle than more subtle differences. You may find that certain aspects of your identity become stronger while abroad (e.g. religious affiliation, national identity) while others may not be as prioritized.

Identity and forms of discrimination such as racism and sexism can take different forms in different cultures. Students are encouraged to reflect on currently held identities and how these identities may be affected based on location, duration, and experience abroad. While abroad, you may be perceived differently than you see yourself. In addition, it is possible to experience racism and discrimination in very different ways than what may have been experienced at home – this can often feel like the discrimination is worse than back home. Experiences abroad may promote growth and intercultural learning, but can also be challenging and uncomfortable at times. Our goal is to help you prepare for these potential challenges, promoting an understanding of cultural context and differences to encourage growth while abroad.

We encourage you to support classmates whenever possible and learn about identities outside of your own to promote understanding and inclusivity for all. Familiarizing yourself with your own personally held identities and the values of others can be extremely helpful when learning to navigate new customs and cultures.

Before you go, research your destination

  • What groups in the country have been discriminated against and how? 
  • How are identities, such as religion, social class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and disability, viewed in the local culture?
  • What is the country’s relationship with the United States (historically and today)?

Food for thought and discussions with friends, family and classmates

  • What are the different conceptions (or lack thereof) of political correctness?
  • What are examples of a time when you felt you needed to “cover” or hide an aspect of their identity? Why?
  • What are your initial impressions of the host culture and where did these impressions come from?
  • How do you think you will be perceived by your host culture and why? Will this be ascribed based on nationality?
  • Discrimination and racism exist everywhere – what is your plan of action if you or one of your peers are faced with racism or discrimination? 
  • What cultural norms exist in your community (dress, social norms, etc.) that may not exist in your host culture? How will you manage these differences?
  • What is discrimination? What is just curiosity? 

Student stories and resources

Illinois Abroad & Global Exchange Student Ambassadors (Identity-focused advising)

Diversity Abroad

IFSA Butler Unpacked Student Stories

GoAbroad E-Book Series