No two students studying abroad ever have quite the same experience, even in the same program and country. This same variety is true for students of color and those from U.S. minority ethnic or racial backgrounds. Reports from past participants vary from those who felt exhilarated by being free of the context of race relations in the U.S., to those who experienced different degrees of 'innocent' curiosity about their ethnicity, to those who felt they met both familiar and new types of ostracism and prejudice and had to learn new coping strategies. Many students reported that their difference as an American was emphasized over and above their ethnic or racial differences while studying abroad. Very few minority students conclude that racial or ethnic problems that can be encountered in other countries represent sufficient reasons for not going. On the other hand, it is wise to know what you are getting into and prepare yourself.
Some questions to ask before you go
- How will I be perceived in the host country? Are there any preconceived notions of people of my ethnic/racial group in the host country?
- Is there a history of ethnic/racial tension in the host country?
- How will I react if someone says or does something offensive?
- How will I react if I am mistaken for being a member of an ethnic group other than the one with which I identify?
- If someone says something insensitive, try to analyze the situation. Are they doing so out of ignorance and misunderstanding, or out of prejudice and bigotry?
Remember that standards of “political correctness” can vary widely outside of the United States.