Identity Abroad

Navigating your identity in a new environment is challenging, especially when the social and cultural norms are foreign to you. Before you apply and depart for your program, we encourage you to think about your multiple and intersecting identities and how they may interact with your cultural environment abroad.  

Navigating a New Environment

While abroad, you could face a different cultural and structural understanding of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, and more. All these parts of your identity can impact your experience abroad and influence the ways in which you are perceived in your host country. Although such encounters with different cultural perspectives can generate opportunities for intercultural learning, they can also be disconcerting, awkward, and uncomfortable.

You could find that you have more affinities with your host community than you expected, but you could also come up against harmful stereotypes and microaggressions surrounding your identities. These encounters can be unsettling and harmful; however, researching your host country’s cultural environment before you leave can help prepare you for stressful situations and mitigate harm. 

Prompts for Reflection and Research

We encourage you to ask yourself the following questions as you explore program options and prepare for your upcoming term abroad:

  • How do my identities grant or deny me power and privilege with the people of my host country? What about with my fellow students studying abroad with me?  
  • What identities have historically and currently face discrimination in my host country? How has the history of my host country shaped the current landscape? 
  • Do I know any students with whom I share identities who have studied abroad previously in the same country or region?  
  • Who will be my support network abroad? Who can I confide in if I experience harmful stereotypes and microaggressions? Are there any organizations within my host university or city that bring together people with shared identities? 
  • What social justice movements are taking place in my host country? How can I be an ally for marginalized peoples in my host country? 

Resources

Once You're Abroad

Below are some suggestions regarding cultural immersion that all students should keep in mind at all times but especially in cases of harassment or discrimination:

  • Call us, write to us. Remember you are still a Wesleyan student while you are abroad. We care about you and will be eager to monitor your progress while abroad. Check in with the Office of Study Abroad from time to time, via email, phone call, or Zoom.
  • Talk to your program staff. Your program staff abroad is the front line for all concerns, whether personal or academic. It is crucial that you stay in regular contact with them and seek their assistance when needed.
  • Build a strong cohort. Never underestimate the value of processing your experience abroad with your peers. Not only can they be supportive, they are often the source of unique and unanticipated insights.
  • Speak candidly. The most effective tool for combating discriminatory habits, either of mind or behavior, is to discuss them candidly, in an open forum and in private counseling. The Office of Study Abroad launches this discussion pre-departure and expects that such conversations will continue abroad.