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Diversity Abroad

Studying Abroad can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. It is a chance to explore the world, learn about a new culture, push your own boundaries and grow as a person. However, studying abroad can also require you to think about your own identity in ways that you never had before. You may also find that aspects of your identity that you have taken forgranted here in the United States are now a defining part of who you are in the new cultural context of your study abroad program. Below are a few recommendations to help you make an informed decision about whether or not a particular location is right for you, and to facilitate your transition to a new environment.

Before Heading Off…

There are a few things that you may want to research before departing for your study abroad experience.

Cultural differences with respect to diversity

Just as seen here in the United States, attitudes regarding various issues of race/religion/sexual identity and gender vary region by region. Cultural sensitivity is important to keep in mind while living and traveling abroad. In some places, you may find that different aspects of diversity are discussed in very different ways than they are here at home. For example, in South Africa a person may proudly declare themselves "coloured", a term that would be found offensive in the States. The best way to learn is by researching in advance. Look for blogs, newspaper articles, or books that talk about the specific issues you are concerned about or see if anyone you know may be familiar with this topic. The more information you have before arrival, the easier your transition will be.

Resources that your specific program offers

Different attitudes regarding diversity issues are well known. All study abroad programs have resources specific to their own region or program. Many times the program headquarters will have information and resources available on their websites, but if you would like to learn more about a particular program, emailing the program office may uncover more useful information. You may also wish to contact a previous student from the program to see if they can tell you anything about the country in terms of the specific diversity issues of concern to you.

Other resources

A bit of searching on the internet however can often reveal many helpful organizations and NGOs that can provide a rich insight into the conditions abroad. Start with a basic search through blogs and social networking sites and go from there. Outside resources should be tapped into because they often reveal more personal accounts and expose the reality that exists abroad. Such resources include:
  • Diversity Issues In Study Abroad: The Diversity Issues in Study Abroad booklet is a collection of quotes by Brown University students about their experiences abroad, which directly addresses issues such as ethnicity, heritage, sexual orientation, religion, minority/majority issues, physical appearance, and language.
  • Studyabroad.com handbook: Helpful information on study abroad, including the article: "Exploring Cultural Differences" by Bill Hoffa.
  • Mobility International:  Mobility International is a non-profit organization that provides information about travel and living abroad for those with disabilities. American students with disabilities studying abroad in the UK are also protected - check out the Web site for more information.
 

Columbia Resources

  Don't hesitate to talk to your Regional Advisor or the Office of Multicultural Affairs about what you might expect abroad and resources available to you. You should also consider reading:
  • LGBTQ Abroad: A webpage dedicated specifically to LGBTQ issues abroad.

While Abroad…

Homestays/Housing

Your living arrangement while abroad will differ by program. No matter where you are staying, you should feel safe and comfortable at all times.  If for any reason you feel that your homestay family or roommates are being discriminatory, bring it up with program staff. An uncomfortable housing situation can be very detrimental to a successful study abroad experience.

Support Networks and Safety

Having a support network while abroad is extremely helpful. Whether it is because you miss your home, are suffering through culture shock, or are having issues  in the country, a support network will help you cope with your issues and can guide you in times of need. Try to make some friends that you can talk with on the program or even open up to a member of the program faculty. Meeting people in the country also can be helpful when you feel lost or confused, so try to get out and immerse yourself in the culture. Having support includes having safe places that you can identify across the region. Whether it is police stations, the program headquarters, or an organizations office, know at all times where they are located because safety is extremely important and you should have a plan of action if the need were to arise.