Ethnicity and Race Abroad

Joel Burt-Miller standing in front of an aerial view of Cape Town, South Africa

Joel Burt-Miller '16 in Cape Town, South Africa

"In my time in South Africa, identity played a major role in my day to day interactions. Being an African American male in this society, I found it easier to navigate amongst the isiZulu communities that I was living in. Overall, I had a great experience in South Africa. However, the effects of the apartheid period were still very much real, and once in a while I would be somewhere where Blacks didn't feel as welcomed because of race. When thinking about studying in a particular place, it is important to understand the history and society in which you will be traveling to, and how your identity may play a role in your experience." — Joel Burt-Miller ’16

  • Some societies are more open and accepting of racial and ethnic diversity than others, or just more well-versed in talking about racial and ethnic differences. People abroad have different cultural norms and can be less "politically correct" than people in the U.S. For example, it may be a cultural norm in your host country to be more direct in asking questions about one's background. 
  • People react differently to looks and behaviors to which they are not accustomed, just as they do in the U.S. Be aware that people may generalize or incorrectly identify your ethnicity.
  • Racial and ethnic minority students have a wide range of experiences abroad. Some may be faced with the possibility of outright racism abroad and/or the possibility of insensitive attitudes, while others may find more accepting communities abroad than they feel they have at home. It is important to be prepared if an incident does arise and to know what supports are available on your program to help you manage them, but at the same time, keep an open mind about your experience and try not to go into it expecting racism or discrimination to occur.

  • Know that sometimes there can be a range of diversity among your program cohort and many questions and conversations around race and ethnicity might come from this group.

Some questions students should consider before going abroad:

  • How is my ethnic group perceived in my host country? What kind of stereotypes are there?
  • How should I react if I find something to be offensive?
  • Is the person curious or do they have bad intentions?
  • Has my host family housed minority students before? If not, will this be an issue for them?
  • Am I used to being part of the majority at home but will be a minority abroad? Or vice versa?
  • Will there be other minority students in my program?
  • Who will I contact if I do face racial or discriminatory incidents?
  • Does my program have support staff that will understand and help me through any racial or discriminatory incident I may face?


A portal with study abroad information for underrepresented students.

IES Abroad has a range of country-specific resources around race and ethnicity, in addition to other identities.

A blog post written by a student correspondent studying abroad at CET/ Colombia.

An article dispelling the myths associated with African Americans studying abroad.

PLATO Project is an integrated study abroad training, certification, and diversity outreach program. PLATO provides comprehensive support resources for study abroad to all U.S. college and university students with special support for underrepresented students.

A blog post written by Brandeis alum Floriesha Bastien '24 about her experience studying abroad at CIEE/ Yonsei University.

A student vlog describing their experience in Italy navigating conversations of race and ethnicity.

A student blog describing their experience in France navigating conversations of Asian-American race and ethnicity.

A deep-dive into conversations about Blackness between a study abroad student and locals in Cape Town, South Africa.