Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality While Away

The U.S. encompasses people of many different racial, ethnic, and national backgrounds. Living and studying in California, you are a part of diverse communities, but what happens when you leave to go elsewhere that might not be so? You might find community and sense of belonging here at home and would hope to find that same sense of comfort while away. Whether you identify as Native American, Indigenous or Pacific Islander, Black, African, African-American or Afro-Caribbean, Middle Eastern, South-East Asian or Asian, Latinx or Caribbean, or encompass many of these different identity markers, know that study abroad and away is an option for you and that your identity markers might offer you a unique experience while away. Let’s talk about what it’s like being a racial or ethnic minority in a U.S. context while on a study abroad or away program.  

According to the Institute of International Education Open Doors Project, over a quarter of a million students from the U.S. studied abroad in another country during the 2016-17 school year. Of the 332,727 students who studied abroad, 29% identified as racial or ethnic minorities. Most students who have studied abroad describe the experience as both rewarding and challenging. For students who identify as racial or ethnic minorities, some of the rewards and challenges may be directly related to identity. You have unique identity markers that will be interpreted differently wherever you go and a perspective that much of the time might not have been previously considered. That being said, know that you are never alone on your study abroad or away program even in the case that you feel isolated while on your program due to your racial, ethnic, or national markers. You have the support of the UCSC Study Abroad Advisors, as well as your program providers.


This graphic displays information about the diverse racial and ethnic markers of students studying abroad or away. We are working to make study abroad or away opportunities more inclusive and accessible for all students.

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Before You Go 

The most important factor to consider when choosing a study abroad or away program is how it will serve your personal, professional, and academic goals. Once you have browsed program options and have picked some countries or programs you are interested in, you should think about what role your identities might play in a study abroad or away experience. 

For example, if you are an African-American/Black/or Caribbean (ABC) student studying in a country in Africa, you may be part of the racial majority for the first time. However, if you are an ABC student studying in Argentina, you may find yourself, even more, part of the racial or ethnic minority than here in the U.S. (as Argentina has very little people of color).  No matter your identity, you can always meet with a UCSC Study Abroad advisor to discuss what it may be like to be YOU abroad. Don’t feel uncomfortable with coming to discuss these important concerns with the Advising Staff, as they are trained in understanding your needs and are dedicated to offering you the support that you seek. 

If you do choose to meet with an advisor, it could be helpful to have your concerns and questions prepared before-hand. Here is a list with just a couple of points you might want to discuss, for example:

  • How many students of color typically study on the programs I am considering?
  • How will I be perceived in my host community because of my ethnic, racial, or national markers?
  • Will I experience discrimination in the country I study in? Who can I talk to about it if I do?
  • I will be studying away in search of heritage, culture, or diaspora community.  Can I contact other students who may have done this before? 
  • Are there additional funding sources or scholarships that I can look into?
  • How can I talk to my loved ones about study abroad or away? 

You should do some research about the experiences of people of your shared ethnic, racial, or national markers living, studying, or traveling in your desired study abroad or away destination, in order to get an idea about their experiences based on identity. You may also be able to connect with a study abroad or away alumni to get an insight into the student experience in a particular country or under a particular study abroad or away program. 

A valuable resource here on campus is the Ethnic Resource Centers. You can inquire with resource center directors or coordinators about being connected with students from your respective communities who have studied abroad or away to learn about what their experience was like. You should also keep an eye out for events like Being Black Abroad and Being Latinx Abroad that could be offered throughout the year. Check out our calendar for upcoming events and always feel free to inquire with our office about additional information!

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While You’re Away

Sometimes, while on your study abroad or away program, you might find yourself as the only person of your racial, ethnic, or national marker. Other times, you could find yourself surrounded by people who share similar or the same racial, ethnic, or national markers. And, in some cases, you might find yourself being a minority within the group of other students in your program, but looking like a part of the majority in the university setting. What is important to know is that you should not feel alone. You have the support from the UCSC Study Abroad Advising Staff alongside the advisors, coordinators, and assistants of your respective program providers, such as UCEAP for example. If at any time you want to address your concerns about your racial,  ethnic, or national identities while away, you should feel free to contact any and all advisors, firstly initiating this conversation with on-sight staff.

When you travel away from California, you may be perceived through a new cultural lens that may categorize and interpret your race, ethnicity, and other identity attributes quite differently than what you are used to in the U.S. People will be intrigued and might challenge the fact that you come from the U.S., but do not fit the imagined identity of what someone coming from the U.S. might look like. Questions like the infamous “But where are you really from?” might come up (*cue eye roll*), but it is important to consider that not everyone around the world has been exposed to United States history or the histories of your places of origin enough to understand your realities as an ethnic or racial minority in the U.S. And, while it is not your responsibility to educate these people about your existence, do know that you will be looked at as a source of representation for your place of origin,  the place where you permanently reside, or the place you grew up in. This could mean both the U.S. and whatever other regions in the world people might associate you with. All you can do is be the best version of yourself and live your best life. 

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Once You Return

We would love to hear about your study abroad or away experience. Your story is the most powerful insight available and can offer so much information for the UCSC Study Abroad Staff to know how else to better support students of diverse ethnic, racial, and national markers going away in the future. If you would like to hold or participate in a workshop designed for students like you, feel free to communicate that with the advisors so that they can organize that and make it a reality! Additionally, if you would like to share your story through a short video, learn more here.

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Study Abroad and Away Snapshot for Students of Diverse Ethnic, Racial, and National Markers

  • Follow the Get Started Guide, as listed above!
  • Gather insight into the experience of other students like you who have studied in these places or under these particular programs. Research, connect with a study abroad alumni, and reach out to the Ethnic Resource Centers
  • Pick the program in which you would feel the safest and welcome while meeting your personal, professional, and academic goals!
  • Go on your study abroad or away program, and enjoy it.
  • Reach out to on-site staff, the program provider staff,  and UCSC Study Abroad staff at any time you are facing issues due to your ethnic, racial, or national identity markers.
  • Leave a legacy for friends, family, and future generations to follow. 
  • Share your experience with our office.
  • Join our alumni events and find other post-undergraduate opportunities.

In addition to the assistance that your Study Abroad Advisor can provide, below you will find a list of relevant resources that focus on the effects that ethnic, racial, and national markers have had or may have on students while away. 

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Student Resources, Experiences, and Perspectives:

African-American, African, Black and Caribbean Students

Native American and Indigenous Students

Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander Students

Latinx Students

Middle Eastern Students

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Additional Resources 

PLATO: Links to organizations, resources, and scholarships that support academic advancement for underrepresented students.