Racial & Ethnic Minority Students
People often talk about the wonderful aspects of studying abroad—how you will be exposed to things you’ve never seen before, how you will be able to connect with people from around the world, and how your thinking will change in ways you never expected. All of these claims can very much be true for any student studying abroad, but in many cases, the way the overall experience is described prior to students leaving is geared toward white students.
Although race does not define who a person is, it can have a big impact on the lived experience of a person living in our society. A 2015 report found that only about 5% of Americans who study abroad are black, 8% of American students who study abroad are Asian, and 9% are Hispanic/Latino, while nearly 73% are white.
The low numbers of students from different races and ethnicities who study abroad means that students with those identities often miss out on all of the benefits that studying abroad can provide, including the resume boost and eventual job prospect that often comes with the experiences students get while abroad.
For many students of color, knowing that they may not see someone who looks like them, or else see very few people who look like them while they are abroad, may create a large disincentive to go. The following are links to resources specifically written for or about students of color abroad, as well as resources that provide insight into the real, lived experiences of American students of color while abroad:*
- The experience of one black woman who found that the curiosity of the locals helped connect her to the culture she was visiting.
- The experience of one black woman who found herself mistaken for black stars such as Selena Williams while abroad in Europe.
- The experience of one black woman who was not as accepted in Namibia as she had anticipated she would be.
- One black woman shares of her experiences studying abroad in China.
- One black woman discusses some of the worst parts about her experiences traveling abroad in Europe.
- One black man shares his views on why black men should study abroad.
- One black man shares the good, the bad, and the weird about his experiences studying abroad.
- One American Asian man shares his experiences with studying abroad in Asia.
- One black man shares his positive experience of studying abroad in Italy.
- One Latina woman shares some of her big take-aways from her study abroad experience.
- Information specifically for Hispanic/Latin students abroad.
- List of reasons why it is beneficial for Hispanic students to study abroad.
Being an ALLY for race and ethnicity abroad
As a white student studying abroad, you may be wondering what you can do to stand in solidarity and support of your peers who are students of color.
The first thing you need to understand is that if you are a white person who grew up in this society, you have benefited off the systemic oppression of people of color and you have racial privilege. This is not to say that you’re a horrible person who ought to be condemned, but it is important to understand that as a white person in America, no matter what other disadvantages you may have grown up with, you grew up white, which has afforded you a certain level of privilege in your life.
The second step is to understand that being an ally to people of color is not about looking like an ally. It is not about a performance you are putting on, or something you do once and check off your ‘good person’ list. It is about actively supporting people of color in the ways that are most helpful to them. The following links provide some insight into ways of doing this:*
- 14 recommended steps to anyone who wishes to be an ally
- 18 steps you should follow before you start talking about race and racism ?
If you wish to be an ally to people of color, it is important to understand the concept of “white guilt.” This is the feeling that you, as a white person, will likely feel once you start digging in to all of the ways that people of color have been and continue to be oppressed in our society, and when you begin to understand that you have been complicit in this system. Although these feelings are perfectly understandable, there are certain spaces where these kinds of feelings should not be voiced, as they can be particularly harmful to people of color who have been on the receiving end of this oppression. The following links provide information about white guilt—what it is, why it is problematic to discuss it in certain spaces, and what to do when you experience those feelings:*
- An explanation of “white guilt”
- Explanation of why people of color cannot emotionally support people experiencing white guilt
- A discussion about the need for white people to process their white guilt in white spaces so as to not burden people of color
Diversity Abroad - Racial & Ethnic Minority Students Abroad
University of Minnesota Multicultural Students Study Abroad
NorthWestern University Race and Ethnicity Abroad
*Guilford College is not responsible for the content of these links and has not screened them for validity. Readers should be advised that there could be strong content or sensitive material within them. They have been included here because they may be a valuable resource for personal knowledge. Reader discretion is advised.