Skip to Content

Racial and ethnic identities abroad

Students who are part of racial/ethnic minorities in the US may have a very different experience abroad than students of European descent. It is very likely that students of color will encounter their racial identities in new and unfamiliar ways during their program, as different countries tend to view race in different ways.

The most common situations are:

  • Being part of the majority ethnicity for the first time
  • Being classified as ‘American’ rather than as the self-identified race/ethnicity
  • Being treated as a curiosity by locals because of appearance, skin color, hair texture, and so on
  • Experiencing racism in different forms from the US.

It is important to research your destination so that you are better prepared for whatever situations may arise. Do not be afraid to ask for help and reach out for support. If students are concerned about these issues, they should visit CGIS before their departure to talk with one of the staff or one of our Peer Advisors. If students do experience a negative incident abroad and they want to address the issue, they should contact their Program Director or on-site staff.

In addition, please contact a CGIS Intercultural Programs Advisor or the CGIS Director at 734.764.4311.

Additional Resources

Explore Perspectives by Country

For most students, study abroad is an amazing, sometimes even life-changing experience. CGIS has prepared in-progress documents intended to provide identity-related background information and context from news sources and other resources. These documents are a springboard for your own research: they might prepare you for some of the specific dynamics that you may experience in several countries that are the most popular with CGIS students (Australia, China, Costa Rica, France, Israel and Palestine, South Africa, Spain, and the United Kingdom) but these documents are only a starting point, by no means an absolute or exhaustive list.


Even though you might be a minority based on your nationality in your host country, you may also receive additional attention for your additional identities, including race and ethnicity, which may or may not be discrimination. You might feel judgment from people based on your gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, disability, or religion, and your unique identities interact and intersect with one another to affect your experience. Remember that nowhere in the world is completely free of ignorance. No matter what happens, don’t let the possibility of discrimination keep you from experiencing and enjoying the life-changing opportunity to study abroad.


Keep in mind that although these excerpts and anecdotes might ring true for some, every identity and experience is unique, and you will have your own, specific experience abroad. These are living documents, and we encourage you to contact us at spauling@umich.edu or nestore@umich.edu if you would like to add your own experiences, input, or other resources to the list, for these or other countries.

Click here for our in-progress compilation of excerpts and anecdotes to start your own research!