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Resources for Preparing Application Essays

Negotiating Identity

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.

Navigating National Identities

In times of heightened political divisions, your national identities may take on different meanings while you are abroad. Read this resource page for tips on how to navigate these encounters.

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. This can lead to an interesting clash of identities: your own self-perception vs. local expectations of what it means to be a student from an American college. 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?  


Female Students

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.


Socio-Economic Issues