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New Zealand by Mathias Gruber
The vibrant mosaic of personal identity profoundly shapes each traveler's journey, including your own. The way you define yourself within the U.S. might shift or evolve within the dynamic context of your new international surroundings. The perceptions others hold of you are also likely to transform. We warmly encourage you to reflect upon the intricate facets of your identity (e.g. sister, student, Latine/a/o, Jewish, male, etc.). Some parts of your identity may be more easily observed by others (e.g. skin color, age, etc.), whereas other dimensions may lie beneath the surface (e.g. religious background, sexual orientation, first-generation status, etc.).

As you embark on this transformative journey, consider how you wish to engage with these aspects of your identity when meeting new people. Contemplate your response in moments where a comment about a part of your identity might unintentionally hurt. Might the course of your identity experience a shift while abroad? Perhaps temporarily or for a lifetime?
Just as you have multiple parts to your identity, so do the people you will meet. Be conscientious of the multiple identities of the people you meet abroad and try to learn from them. In turn, they will learn the different parts that make up who you are.
Pro-Tip: Identity Resources 

Explore the resources provided on our Diversity & Identity Abroad webpage. These resources will help you as you consider and prepare for your study abroad program, regardless of background or identity. If you have questions or would like further information related to an aspect of your identity that is not included below, please reach out to our Access & Inclusion Coordinator. 

Perceptions and Stereotypes

You might not have the same status or role in your host country that you experience in the U.S. The cultural definitions of harassment may be different or seem nonexistent. You could potentially find yourself in situations that cause feelings of anxiety, confusion, fear, powerlessness, or anger. Conversely, you may feel uncomfortable because you enjoy a different status than the locals simply because you are from elsewhere. Researching your identity and how your identity is perceived in your host country may help you to remain safe and will help you to better understand your experience. 

The human tendency to simplify and organize information into neat categories is quite normal, but the results are damaging if stereotypes become the only definition of what we see and experience. Stereotyping works both ways. Just as we have simple ideas about people and places we've never seen, others will have the same about us. If all people know of the U.S. comes from reruns of unrealistic TV shows or the actions of our government, they will have strange ideas about life in the U.S. You may, for example, be asked by adults whether you know the President personally or if you could call Brad Pitt to say hello. Stereotypes can be negative or positive. For example, people from the U.S. are often characterized as wealthy, highly independent, competitive, practical, and generous. Although these traits can be viewed positively, they can also be viewed negatively as well.  Try to be aware of the perceptions of the country where you are visiting.

Discrimination Abroad

No destination is completely free of discrimination, so it is good to be prepared for issues you may encounter. Do some research before you arrive on site about the cultural climate of your host location. Learn about groups in your host community that have been victims of discrimination. Speak with family and friends about what you learn about these communities. We encourage you to reach out to CU Boulder Education Abroad if there is anything you would like to discuss.

You will meet many people while you are abroad. You might meet people who have never met or interacted with someone like you. You may get stares or questions that come off as offensive. Keep in mind not all cultures recognize the boundaries associated with asking you something that makes you uncomfortable. Sometimes what may seem like discrimination may just be curiosity.  On the other hand, you may also encounter individuals who are intentionally trying to hurt you. Never risk or compromise your health, safety, and security abroad by becoming confrontational or argumentative. This type of response only encourages such a person to continue their actions.

Facing Challenges

Be patient while facing challenges. Although incidents can be unpredictable, you still have control of how you react to obstacles. Remember why you first wanted to study abroad. You are abroad to expand yourself academically, professionally, and personally.  Don’t let others' actions prevent you from making the most of your experience abroad.

Whether you have been faced with discrimination in the U.S. or not, you may know someone who has and how that experience has affected them. Adjust your behavior appropriately to keep yourself safe, but don’t lose your own identity in the process. This doesn’t mean that everyone will experience discrimination while abroad; however, even if you are not a victim, you might be able to support someone who is.

Last Updated January 2023
Photo, New Zealand by Mathias Gruber