While studying abroad in a foreign country, you will experience a variety of new perspectives and customs. Please read the information below which outlines a number of these new experiences.
Your Identity and the Global City
CAPA strives to be an inclusive environment, where all students receive the support and guidance necessary to interact in a new environment and learn from people with diverse backgrounds, worldviews, and cultural traditions. CAPA fosters a number of on-going initiatives to support students, faculty, and staff as they explore diversity issues.
While abroad, students will encounter a wide range of perspectives regarding diversity issues. Understanding how these attitudes and beliefs may influence your study abroad experience will significantly help you to better understand your own beliefs as well as those of your host culture.
First, examine your own identity and cultural beliefs. Then research the culture of your host country and begin to reflect upon how your identity will impact your experiences and perhaps be affected by your experience in a different culture.
Students can provide support for each other abroad by getting together and talking about their experiences. In discussing your experiences, focus on exploring how they provide insight into the cultural values of your host culture. Develop strategies for coping with culture shift, rather than getting stuck in culture shock. It is important to balance your own perceptions while maintaining respect for your host culture. Keep in mind your study abroad experience is not an opportunity to replicate your home life in another setting; instead it is a new learning experience.
Study abroad allows you the opportunity to explore cultural patterns for gender roles. Whether a woman or a man, you may be challenged by gender roles and expectations that are different than those to which you are accustomed. Interactions between men and women are often fascinating to learn about, while relationships between women (or between men) can be equally challenging for students who do not adhere to the gender norms of their host culture. Prepare yourself by first reflecting on your own cultural understanding of gender roles and relations. Are there some behaviors that are more acceptable for one gender than the other in your home country? In your city? In your community?
Once you are in-country, you may find that your perceptions of appropriate interactions do not correspond to the acceptable interactions in your host country. Learn what is expected in terms of dress codes, appropriate conversation topics, proximity and physical contact. Be observant and learn the social norms and the consequences for violating those norms. If you have any unanswered questions about cultural norms, the CAPA staff will be happy to help you.
Before you go, it can prove very useful to research the implications of gender in your host culture. Talk with students who have studied there before, befriend international students from your host culture, and search the internet for more helpful information. Some questions to research include:
- What is the history of gender roles and relations in your host culture?
- Are there different roles and expectations for US American women than there are for women of your host culture?
- How might your gender influence people’s interactions with you?
- What privileges and disadvantages are associated with gender in your host culture?
- What are the consequences for stepping outside the gender norms?
- How do you plan to cope with a cultural shift in gender roles and expectations?
Race and Ethnicity
Every student will have a unique experience abroad, even those in the same program and same country. This same diversity of experience is also true for students of color and those from US dominant groups. It is important to learn about the politics of race, ethnicity, religion, and nationality in your host country. This will help you develop realistic expectations for situations you might encounter abroad.
Students in the past have reported a variety of experiences and perceptions abroad, ranging from those who felt relieved to leave the context of race relations in the US, to those who felt similar and also new types of prejudice abroad. Regardless of the challenges some students faced in their host cultures, almost all report feeling very satisfied with their experience abroad and mark it as one of the most important aspects of their undergraduate studies.
Before you depart, it is advisable to research the history of your host culture’s relationships to US non-dominant groups. It is also a good idea to talk with others who have studied there, befriend host country nationals, ask for their insight, and search the internet for additional information. Some students have found that members of their host culture did not consider them to be US Americans, but rather identified them according to their race or ethnic background. It is a good idea to think about how this will make you feel and how you plan to address this cross-cultural adversity.
- How does your home culture define “race” and “ethnicity”?
- How does your host culture define those same terms?
- Are there different expectations for people within these categories? In your town? In your city? In the country?
- How will expectations be different in your host culture? Why?
- What influences people’s expectations? At home? In your host culture?
- How do you plan to cope with the shift in cultural understanding of “race” and “ethnicity”?
Learning as much as you can about your host culture and country before you depart will help you prepare and make the most of your study abroad experience. Once in-country, be sure to develop a support network and speak with CAPA staff who will be happy to answer any of your questions and address any of your concerns.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender
While studying abroad you will meet new friends and develop new relationships: friendships and perhaps romantic ones. Research what your host country’s norms are in terms of friendships and romantic relationships between people of any sexual orientation or gender identity.
Before you depart for your program abroad, CAPA encourages you to learn everything you can about the country and culture in which you’ll be studying. Sexual identity and gender identity, as well as how each are defined, vary across cultures. Remember to consider the cultural, social, and legal issues involved. While some countries are more supportive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights than the U.S., others stipulate punishments for certain behavior.
It is important to consider the implications of being identified as LGBT person in your host culture and how being “out” may impact other people’s interactions with you. You may field questions about boyfriends or girlfriends regardless of how you self-identify. It is a good idea to start formulating personal strategies to address these situations and to develop a support network in-country. Additional questions to consider include:
- What terms are used to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity in your home?
- What terms are used in your host country? Do they have similar or different means?
- What are the expectations for LGBT people? In your town? In your city? In the country?
- How will expectations be different in your host culture? Why?
- What influences people’s expectations? At home? In your host culture?
- How might your (real or perceived) sexual orientation and gender identity influence people’s interactions with you? How will this make you feel? How will this impact your overall experience?
- How do you plan to cope with the shift in cultural beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity?
Seek out country-specific information by speaking with fellow students who have been there before and befriend people from your host country to learn common perceptions. Search the internet for additional sources. The NAFSA Association of International Educators Rainbow Special Interest Group is a good place to start.
Studying abroad can be powerful experience for all students. As you prepare for your study abroad experience, consider how your religion or spiritual beliefs may influence your experiences abroad. You will likely have encounters that challenge your notions of spirituality. You can alleviate potential misunderstandings by learning as much as possible about the culture where you’ll be living. Your experience abroad can be an incredible opportunity to learn about world religions and to understand social and historical views of religious acceptance and tolerance in your host country. Take the time to learn how people in your host culture worship and engage in different religious practices.
- What is the predominant religion of your host country?
- How might your beliefs and practices be viewed in your host culture? How might this influence people’s interactions with you?
- In what ways does religion influence social interactions in your host culture?
- How will you practice your religion abroad?
- Do you wish to connect with a group or attend religious service abroad?
- What strategies will you use to adjust to a culture with different perceptions of your religious beliefs?
Prepare yourself by thinking about how you will answer questions about your religion and spiritual beliefs in your host country’s language. If you have dietary restrictions due to your religious beliefs, make sure to inform CAPA staff well in advance of your program start date. Seek out country-specific information about world religions by speaking with fellow students who have studied there before and befriend people from your host country to learn common perceptions. Learn how your host culture views diverse religious beliefs and how people of diverse faith are integrated into society. The more you know, the better prepared you will be for the your new environment.
While abroad, you will have the opportunity to interact with a wide range of people with diverse backgrounds and life experiences. In your host culture you may experience class issues differently than you do at home. In certain contexts, all US Americans may be considered rich, including working class Americans. Some cultures have more narrowly defined notions of “class” than those in the United States. It is a good idea to first reflect on your own ideas about “class,” and then research your host country’s ideas too. Here are some questions to get you started:
- How do you define class? What class do you belong to?
- What are the different expectations for people of different classes in the U.S.?
- How is “class” defined in your host culture?
- How do foreigners and U.S. Americans integrate into the class structure of your host culture?
- Do you have friends from different classes at home? Why or why not?
- Who would you like to meet in your host culture? What do you want to learn?
- How might a cultural shift in perceptions about “class” impact you and your experience abroad?
Seek out country-specific information by speaking with fellow students who have studied there before and befriend people from your host country to learn common perceptions. Also be sure to spend some time researching class issues in your host country before you depart.
Students with Disabilities
The decision to study abroad is an important one for all students. Students with disabilities should make sure that they are informed about available accommodations before making their final decision. Keep in mind that the most important quality for any study abroad participant is openness. You are going abroad to experience a different way of life, which may include alternative methods of addressing your disability.
Remember that you may experience either more or less independence than you are accustomed to at home. Consider how this will impact you. It will be important to self-advocate and communicate your needs, but also important to remain open to alternative ways to meet your needs. Inform the CAPA staff about the accommodations you require, well in advance of your program start date. Keep the staff updated about any challenges you encounter while abroad.
Prepare yourself by thinking about how you will answer questions about your disability in your host country’s language. Look up key vocabulary words ahead of time. Seek out country-specific information by speaking with fellow students who have studied there before and befriend people from your host country to learn common perceptions. The more you know, the better prepared you will be for the your new environment. Search the internet for additional information. Here are some questions to consider.
- How does your host culture define disability?
- How is this different than the way that the U.S. defines disability?
- What accommodations will be available to you abroad?
- What accommodations will not be available to you? How will this impact you?
- How are people with disabilities integrated into society?
- How do plan to cope with cultural shift and alternative methods for addressing your disability?
In the U.S., a wide range of food is available and ingredients are usually listed on the packaging. When traveling abroad, it is sometimes difficult to maintain a particular diet. Being a vegetarian (or vegan), for example, can mean different things to different people. It is important to be clear and specific when communicating your dietary concerns (I don’t eat meat. I don’t eat red meat. I eat fish. I don’t eat pork. I am lactose intolerant. Etc). Be sure to inform CAPA well in advance of your program start date about your dietary needs. If you plan to stay with a host family it may take some time to find a family that will accommodate your needs. Make certain to also have a conversation with your host family about your dietary concerns upon arrival.
Also take time to consider how your food choices might affect the friends who may invite you to dinner, your host family, or students with whom you will cook in the residence halls. Prepare for situations where ingredient lists are unavailable and for your new acquaintances to challenge your dietary restrictions. It is a good idea to be prepared to discuss your dietary concerns in your host country’s language and to strategize methods to cope with the stress of possibly having less access to the foods in your regular diet.