Heritage Seekers

For many students, learning about their ancestry is very important, and the opportunity to go abroad presents these students with an opportunity to connect and learn about their ancestral history and culture firsthand. The Institute of International Education has coined the term "heritage seeker" as a student who is drawn to study abroad in a particular country and culture "not because it is unfamiliar and new, but rather because it is somewhat familiar."

Often going to your ancestral homeland can be a very emotional experience, because you are choosing the location not just for the academics but for personal reasons as well. Some students will be able to meet with relatives, while others will just be learning more about their ancestral history or learning the language of their parents so that they can feel more connected to all parts of their heritage. The type of experience you'll have abroad will vary-some students have come home feeling more connected to their ancestral roots while others are more appreciative of their American roots.

Heritage seekers at times have idealized views of their ancestral homes and sometimes expect that they will slip easily into Polish, Ghanaian or Vietnamese culture, for example, because their grandparents are Polish, Ghanaian, or Vietnamese. However, if you have grown up in America, you are primarily American, despite other influences. You should be prepared to be seen as an outsider, although often a welcome one, in the local community. While you can gain rewarding insight into your heritage and family, be modest in your expectations about fitting in or having an instinctive understanding of your host country. One of the best things heritage learners can do is forget everything that they know about their home country and enter the country with an open mind. Heritage students preparing to go abroad should be aware that many of the ideas and presumptions that they have about their host country will be challenged. 


Seeking your Roots: An article written by a student studying in China.