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Social Identities

Please also see the Identities Abroad section on the CGIS website.

Racial and Ethnic Issues Abroad

Students who are part of racial/ethnic minorities in the US may have a 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.

LGBTQ Students

Remember that LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Two-Spirit, Queer, or Questioning) identities are historically and culturally specific. The terminologies and social significances Americans are most familiar with are products of a specific time and place. 

Students do not necessarily need to alter their behavior/appearance while abroad, but they should be conscious of how their behavior/appearance translates into the host culture so they can make informed choices to ensure their comfort and safety. 

Similarly, people’s willingness to discuss personal experiences of gender and sexuality may change depending on who is participating in a given interaction, where they are, and so on. That does not mean that they are "ashamed" or "in denial." Neither does it mean that those who identify as "out" are comfortable discussing such topics in all situations.

Students who are undergoing medical transition (taking hormones, preparing for SRS, and so on) will need to make sure that they will have the medical resources they need while abroad. Hormones in particular may be very difficult to obtain overseas, and it can be extremely dangerous to cease hormone treatments abruptly if they run out.

Same-sex sexual behavior is illegal in many countries. Furthermore, being open about their sexuality may place students at risk of physical harm, depending on location. Make sure you know what your rights are, and make sure someone you trust knows where you are at all times.

Study abroad participants should not be afraid to ask for help and reach out for support. Intercultural Programs Advisors in the CGIS office 734.764.4311) are LGBTQ allies and can assist students in addressing their concerns and point students in the direction of resources at the host institution and here on campus, such as the Spectrum Center

The UM Spectrum Center (3200 Michigan Union) is also the main LGBTQ resource on campus that can help students identify valuable resources and support services. They can be reached by email at or by phone at 734.763.4186. 

LGBTQ and similarly-identified students who are not familiar with the legal status and the attendant cultural attitudes of sexual orientation in the host country might consider purchasing the most current edition of one of the various gay and lesbian international reference guides before departing. New York University (NYU) also offers a location specific, student-to-student LGBT guide written by NYU students.