Being a Foreigner While Abroad

A Brandeis student in South Africa

You may encounter both negative and positive stereotypes regarding your ethnicity and/or nationality while abroad, and we encourage you to do some research to learn a bit more about what it means to be a foreigner living and studying in another country.

Some examples of things you may want to consider are:

  • Politeness: Formal greetings and grammar may be more common. You may also find that you receive more personal questions as others may be more curious about you. Remember that just because something seems impolite to you, it might not actually be impolite within your new culture.

  • Speech: Humor and profanity may be perceived differently in a new culture and language.

  • Dress: Appropriate clothing varies around the world. Learn about the cultural and/or religious background of your new community. Ask questions to understand the history behind certain differences in dress and do your best to be respectful of those differences.

  • Physical contact: Take special note of social and personal space. Different cultures have different ways of saying hello and goodbye and different standards of how much physical contact is considered appropriate. Also, be observant of the different stages of a relationship and the amount of physical contact associated with them while you are abroad. A simple pat on the back or a hug could prove very uncomfortable for the receiver if the context is inappropriate. Read more.

  • Drinking and drunkenness: Be aware of local laws and customs around drinking. While in many countries social drinking is common, drunkenness is rarely viewed as amusing and in most cases is seen as intolerable and insulting.

  • Classroom behavior: Expect your classroom environment to be different than here at Brandeis. For example, participating in class may not be appropriate, the use of technology may be discouraged, classes may be organized differently, and learning may take place in new formats.

  • Your identity: Studying abroad may be your first time being a minority or being part of the majority in your new country or even within your program cohort. Identities around race, religion, gender presentation, socioeconomic class, and more, can all play a large role in your experience. You may find that others ask you more questions or you may find that you ask yourself more questions around your identity. Before going abroad, think about what some of these questions might be and how you might react to them.


A blog post by Brandeis student Nico Leger '21, who studied abroad at CIEE/ Yonsei University.

A collection of external resources related to diversity, access, identity, and inclusion abroad, organized by country.