Race and Ethnicity

In the U.S. your identity might be closely linked to your race or 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 a lot of things.  Your physical appearance, manner and dress can influence how people “see” you.  If you visit a location 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.

Race and ethnicity are socially and culturally based, and may often be interpreted differently across the globe. Studying abroad may place you into the minority for the first time, and you may be viewed differently. The Office of Education Abroad is dedicated to aiding students prepare for the different ways race, ethnicity, racism, and ethnocentrism may manifest in an international and/or foreign context.

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.

Before you go abroad, try to find out the answers to some questions:

  • How do people in your host culture view Americans, and in particular, people in your groups?
  • Has your host family had students like you in the past?
  • Even though you may not be considered from a minority at home, will you be perceived as a minority abroad? 
  • Or the opposite—will you now become part of the majority?  Even if you look like a local and blend in, you are still American and might not display the correct local behavior in a given situation.  This can cause confusion!
  •  What do you do if you are confronted with racial discrimination?

“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.”

The following resources may be especially helpful as you gather information. Students are also welcome to discuss their concerns with the Education Abroad Advisor in the Education Abroad office. Call 419-372-0479 to set up an appointment.

Student Testimonials
  • Scholarships:
BGSU Resources

Updated: 03/23/2023 03:02PM