PREPARING TO STUDY ABROAD
Information Regarding Diversity and Discrimination Abroad
We all belong to different groups. We belong to a religion, a university, are from the north or south, are vegetarian or eat meat; our gender, our age, our manner of speaking, our sexual orientation and even more aspects of our selves go into making up our identity.
In the U.S. your identity might be closely linked to your ethnicity. But overseas, you will most likely be identified as an American first. Many people abroad have opinions about the U.S. and have perceptions about what Americans are like. Sometimes they are right and sometimes not.
People will make assumptions based on appearance. Not only does your physical appearance enter in—you might be shorter or taller than others or have a different skin color—but also your manner of dress can influence how people “see” you. And if you go to a place where the local people have little contact with people from outside, they might be very curious, especially children. They might ask questions that seem odd or ask to touch your skin or hair.
It is important to learn to distinguish between comments or actions that show genuine curiosity and a desire to learn from outright offensive behavior. Sometimes you might feel offended, but first try to determine if offense was really meant.
In many cultures women are not permitted to do everything that a man does. If this is the case and an American woman is seen doing something a local woman would never do, she might experience a strong reaction.
Before you go abroad, try to find out the answers to some questions:
“Political correctness” may not exist in the culture where you plan to go. Try to find other students who have been there before to learn what to expect. Most students who go abroad have a very positive experience but be prepared to assess any incident for its true intent before taking offense or giving a strong reaction. Most of all, don’t give the locals the opportunity to see “the ugly American.”