Heritage Seekers

If you're planning to study abroad in a country where you share a physical resemblance or common heritage with the local population, you may feel a unique connection. Nevertheless, it's important to acknowledge that cultural disparities will likely still exist. These distinctions can sometimes be challenging to navigate, particularly because they might catch you off guard. Before embarking on your journey abroad, you might anticipate forming a profound bond with the local culture. However, upon arrival, you may find yourself feeling like an outsider, or even being perceived as one, or perhaps both. Additionally, owing to your physical appearance or a name that sounds native to the region, your hosts may hold you to different standards compared to other students in your program. You may encounter criticism from locals for not speaking the local language fluently or for not grasping all the socio-cultural nuances.

It's worth noting that people in the host country may not always fully grasp your experience as a minority in the United States. Some heritage students have shared their experiences of occasionally feeling “not American enough” while in the U.S. and “not local enough” while abroad. However, research has indicated that, for most students, studying abroad in a country where they share a racial or ethnic identity with the majority can be an immensely positive experience. The shared connection and distinct national identities often lead to engaging conversations and enriching learning opportunities.

As a heritage seeker, one of the most beneficial actions you can take is to approach your time in a foreign country with an open mind and adequate preparation. Reflect on how you might respond if you encounter phrases or behaviors that you find offensive. Consider the implications of suddenly becoming part of the majority abroad when you might be accustomed to being in the minority at home. It's also possible that there will be other heritage students in your program, and their experiences may vary significantly from yours.


Book references: 

Lose Your Mother (2008), Saidiya Hartman. Hartman traces the history of the Atlantic slave trade by recounting a journey she took along a slave route in Ghana. Following the trail of captives from the hinterland to the Atlantic coast, she reckons with the blank slate of her genealogy and vividly dramatizes the effects of slavery on three centuries of African and African American history.

Mexican Enough (2008) Stephanie Elizondo Griest struggled with her cultural identity. Upon turning thirty, she ventured to her mother's native Mexico to do some root-searching.  

Student Perspectives

Read Imani Pugh's perspectives on studying abroad in Ghana and more student blogs.