Heritage students often expect to be embraced by the host culture because they “look like” locals, i.e. an African-American student studying in Senegal or a Chinese-American student in China. People and their cultures are complex, and locals are likely to see these students as Americans first, regardless of appearance. They may look similar, but locals’ history and experiences are likely to be very different from that of their guest, i.e. study abroad students whose stay in the host culture is finite.
Some students return from their global education experience feeling very connected to their ancestral roots, while other return feeling more appreciative of their American roots. The type of experience you have will undoubtedly be unique. Your experience abroad will give you a chance to learn more about your ancestral history and the culture today.
Things to Consider Before Going Abroad
Adapted from Diversity Abroad’s “Diversity & Inclusion Abroad Guide: Heritage Seekers Traveling Abroad”
- How will I be perceived in my host/home location? Will I be considered one of the locals? Or will I be seen as a foreigner?
- Will I be accepted in my host/home location?
- Do I speak the language of my host/home location? How will that affect my experience?
- If I speak the language of my host/home location, is my accent different than that of the locals?
- Are the customs and culture of my host/home location the same as the ones I was raised with here in the U.S.? Or do they differ?
- Will there be other heritage students in my program?
- Am I used to being part of the minority at home? What is like to be a part of the majority now that I’m abroad?
- How should I react if a local person expects more of me (e.g., culturally, behaviorally, linguistically, etc.) than other students who don’t share the same cultural or ethnic heritage?
- How should I react if I find something to be offensive? How should I react if someone generalizes or incorrectly identifies my ethnicity?
- How should I react if other students in the program look to me to be an “expert,” even if I’m not?
- How can I reconcile the differences between the customs and culture that I am experiencing in my host/home location with the ones that I was raised with?
- Tips for Heritage Seekers Traveling Abroad – Diversity Abroad’s tips and resources for students seeking to use study abroad to connect and learn about their ancestral history and culture firsthand.
- Unpacked: A Study Abroad Guide for Students Like Me – IFSA-Butler webpage with stories, blogs and resources.
- Heritage Seeking in Education Abroad – Literature review that explores some of the cultural identification issues heritage students face when abroad.
- The Study Abroad Experiences of Heritage Language Learners: Discourses of Identity – Student’s dissertation that explores the complexities associated with learning a heritage language abroad, specifically regarding identity, expectations, and beliefs about language and language learning.
- Seeking Your Roots - An article from a UT-Austin student magazine.