Diversity & Identity Abroad
Beloit College has made a strong commitment to encouraging diversity and fostering a safe and inclusive learning environment for all students regardless of race, sexual orientation, disability, gender, religion, or any other difference in background or identity. The Office of International Education would like to encourage and facilitate the same diversity of participation in its off-campus study programs. We recognize that students from underrepresented groups face distinct challenges when considering and preparing for off-campus study, and have compiled this page to address some of these concerns.
Each of us has a complex set of factors, interests, and backgrounds that make up our personal identities. Going abroad, or even to another city in the US, and immersing yourself in another culture may challenge aspects of your identity and possibly change the way you view yourself. Something that marks you out as different at home may not be a big deal in your host community, while another aspect of your identity that you had hardly noticed before becomes the first thing that people ask you about. The more you know about the culture of your off-campus site before you get there, the more prepared you will be to face challenges to your identity.
It is important to be aware that you may face some unwanted attention or prejudice during your time off-campus due to cultural differences and norms. You may get stared at because of the color of your skin or hair, or get unwanted comments on the way that you dress. Knowing how to address these challenges, and having a support network in place to help you if and when they occur, is essential. This network should include not only family and friends back home, but also on-site support such as the local program coordinator or international student advisor and other program participants.
Students from underrepresented groups in the US may find themselves better equipped to deal with the identity challenges associated with off-campus study due to prior experience being part of a minority.
Diversity Abroad has tips on how economically disadvantaged students can make study abroad financially feasible.
Racial and Ethnic Identities
Depending on where you study abroad, your appearance may immediately distinguish you as a foreigner or it may help you blend in. However, as soon as you open your mouth, most people will realize that you're an American. This can lead to an interesting clash of identities: your own self-perception vs. local expectations of what it means to be "American". Being a racial minority in your host country can also sometimes lead to challenging, uncomfortable, or even offensive questions and assumptions, as can suddenly finding yourself in the majority. Here are some useful websites to help you prepare for these situations.
Some questions to consider include:
- What racial categories or constructions exist in your host country?
- Do any of the power structures in your host country favor people of a certain race or races, or other markers? How will you fit into this system?
- What is the history of colonialism in your host country?
- What are the pressing immigration and/or emigration issues in your host country?
Race: Are We So Different? A New Look at Race through Three Lenses, a project of the American Anthropological Association.
White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, by Peggy McIntosh
Project for Learning Abroad, Training, and Outreach (PLATO): Resources to Support Underrepresented Students
University of Pittsburgh's Access International Education: Resources on Underrepresented Groups in International Education
Legal and social attitudes towards sexuality and gender vary considerably across cultures. Do your research while applying and preparing for off-campus study so that you know what to expect and how to stay safe and avoid persecution.
Diversity Abroad: Sexual Orientation Abroad
International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC): Information by Country
International Lesbian and Gay Association: State Homophobia Map
Michigan State University: Study Abroad for GLBT Students
NAFSA Rainbow Special Interest Group: U.S. Students Abroad
U.S. Department of State: Students Abroad For LGBT Travelers
You may face different attitudes towards women and gender roles during your studies and travels abroad. Research the gender-related cultural norms of your host country before you go and if possible, talk to female students or professors who have been there before. To avoid unwanted attention, you may want to observe and imitate the appearance and behavior of local women. However, you should never feel pressured to adapt and adjust to the extent that you feel unsafe.
Canadian Government: Her Own Way - A Woman's Safe-Travel Guide
Diversity Abroad: Women Abroad
Journeywoman: The Premier Travel Resource for Women
U.S. Department of State: For Women Travelers
When choosing an off-campus study program, it is important to remember that attitudes, accessibility, and accommodations for people with disabilities vary from country to country. Be sure to research your host culture to learn about common perceptions of your disability and what, if any, support it typically available. Additional accommodations can often be negotiated on a case-by-case basis with your program coordinator or host university, but it is important to disclose your needs early. Also, if you are going to a country where English is not an official language, make sure that you have the necessary language skills to talk about your disability. If you have a learning disability and receive accommodation at Beloit, contact LEADS for advice on explaining your needs and getting similar support while studying abroad.
Diversity Abroad: Students with Disabilities Abroad
Mobility International USA (MIUSA): Going Abroad: A Guide for Americans with Disabilities and Stories & Blogs
US Department of State: Travelers with Disabilities
Mobility International USA (MIUSA) has a webinar, funding tips, and links to fellowships and scholarships (both general and disability-specific) for international exchange.