Skip to main content

You are here

Your Identity Abroad

Who you are matters!

Studying abroad allows students to immerse themselves in a different culture, to see others from a different perspective, and to meet people from all over the world. Along with allowing you to take classes in your chosen field of study with a different academic and cultural perspective, it’s also an opportunity to learn new skills, appreciate and understand different ways of thinking, and discover strength and abilities you never knew you had! To maximize your experience and minimize interruptions, hassles and setbacks, planning ahead is crucial. One important aspect of this planning is examining the complexities of your own personal identity and culture, as well as the resources and culture of the destinations you’re considering.

There are many facets of your identity that will impact your study abroad experience. Attitudes toward different groups can vary greatly across cultures, and the way a host country’s majority culture understands itself also differs from region to region. No place in the world is monocultural, and preparing in advance to live and study outside the United States will not only ease the transition, but may impact your choice of study abroad location.

As you consider and prepare for an international experience, use the following information and questions as a guide to examine some of the more personal aspects of study abroad. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list but a good place to start. While your planning will also include important academic considerations for studying abroad, you are also encouraged to discuss the topics in this resource guide with the MassArt Study Abroad Advisor and anyone else helping you plan to study abroad. You can make an appointment. The IEC is ready to provide guidance and resources as you prepare for your experience!

    • Time to Reflect
      The Destination
      • • What is life like in the country?
      • • What are my reasons for choosing this country?
      • • Have I developed knowledge about this country based on stereotypes?
      • • What cultural differences should I expect?
      • • What do I need to know about COVID in the countries I’m interested in in order to keep myself safe and limit the transmission of COVID?


      The Host Program

      • • What types of housing are available?
      • •Is my program able to provide for single rooms, private bathrooms and certain roommates?
      • •What other resources are available to me?


      Your Needs

      • • Am I used to being part of the minority/majority at home?
      • • How will it be to be a part of the minority/majority abroad instead?
      • • Am I looking for an extremely different experience or to retain some cultural similarities?
      • • What are my goals while abroad?
      • • How will the study abroad experience contribute to my artistic and creative goals?
      • • How will this experience contribute to the achievement of my academic and career goals?
      • • How will I involve my family in my decision to study abroad? How can I explain to my family that a study abroad experience can contribute to the achievement of my goals?
      • • What kind of experience am I looking for?
      • • How do I plan to finance my time abroad?
      • • What are my expectations about socializing and dating while abroad?
      • • Are the medications I take legal and available in my host country?


      Time to Engage

    • There are many benefits in studying abroad and the experience will make you a stronger candidate for opportunities after graduation. Speak to the study abroad advisor about academic advising and financial aid. Also, speak to students who have studied abroad to give you firsthand advice about living abroad. It can be daunting to have friends and family misunderstand studying abroad as a ‘vacation’. It is important to find people in your life that will support your decision to study abroad.

      Time to Reflect:
      • • Does the program offer first-generation scholarships for study abroad or general scholarships?
      • • How will I explain the process and my interest in studying abroad to family and friends?
      • • Am I looking for an extremely different experience or to retain some cultural similarities?
      • • How important is the physical distance from friends and family, and how will I keep in touch?
      • • How will I involve my family in my decision to study abroad?


      Time to Engage:

    • Seeking to connect and learn about your ancestry and culture first hand can be an emotional experience. Many of the ideas and presumptions that you may hold about your host country will be challenged while abroad. Make sure to enter the country with an open mind. Some locals might accept you because of similarity in identity, but some might view you as an outsider due to the cultural difference. Many students develop a deeper understanding of their identities after studying abroad.

      Time to Reflect
      • • How will I be perceived in my study abroad country?
      • • How does the country's culture compare to the culture I was raised with?
      • • Will there be other heritage students in my program?
      • • Is there a language requirement?
      • • Does the program offer the opportunity to work with the local community or the public?
      • • Are there excursions offered through the program, and if so, what are they?
      • • How will I handle it if relatives ask for money or other favors while I am there?
      • • What do I hope to discover or achieve while abroad?
      • • Do I speak the language of my host/home country?
      • • How should I react if other students on the program look to me to be an "expert," even if I'm not?
      • • How should I react if I find something to be offensive?
      • • What if I am not accepted in my host country?
      • • How should I react if a local person expects more of me (e.g., culturally, behaviorally, linguistically, etc.) than other students who don't share the same cultural or ethnic heritage?


      Time to Engage:

    • Even though it may feel like you just arrived, you may want to consider a study abroad program to enhance your academic plan. Lots of international students do! Here are some things to consider.

      Time to Reflect:
      • • What effect will my citizenship status have on my ability to travel?
      • • How does my host country perceive and treat individuals from my home country? How might that be different from how I am perceived/treated in the U.S.?
      • • What kind of stereotypes exist there?
      • • What are the cultural norms in the host country?
      • • Will I experience any form of discrimination?
      • • Are there additional funding sources I can look into?
      • • Will there be other international students on my program, mostly local students, or mostly U.S. students on my program?
      • • How can I make sure I am maintaining my U.S. visa status while pursuing an international experience?
      • • After my international experience, what documents do I need to re-enter the U.S.?
      • • How might an international experience affect my ability to apply for OPT, CPT, or Academic Training?
      • • What will the travel logistics be like coming from my home country?


      Time to Engage:

    • Studying abroad can be a transformative experience for LGBTQ students. Many students who studied abroad have reported gaining confidence as they explored other LGBTQ+ communities and reflected on their experiences.

      Time to Reflect:
      • • What are gender relations like in your host culture?
      • • What are the laws and cultural norms surrounding relationships and dating?
      • • What laws govern the LGBTQ community in your host country?
      • • What are social and cultural attitudes towards the LGBTQ community?
      • • What may make the coming out process different in the host country compared to the U.S.?
      • • Are there any safety considerations to be aware of?
      • • What is the attitude of the local police towards LGBTQ visitors?
      • • Are sexual orientations and gender identity openly discussed or more taboo in the host country?
      • • How LGBTQ-friendly is the host institution?
      • • What types of housing are available there? Is my program able to make accommodations, including single rooms, private bathrooms and certain roommates?
      • • Are there LGBTQ friendly establishments and communities near the program facilities?
      • • Can and will the program staff help you identify them?
      • • Does the study abroad program discuss LGBTQ considerations during orientation?
      • • How open do you want/need to be about your sexual orientation while abroad with friends, professors, and host family and program staff?
      • • If you were to travel to a location where you would need to hide your sexual orientation due to safety concerns in the host country, how would this impact your overall study abroad experience?
      • • Are there situations where you would not disclose your sexual identity?
      • How will you meet other sexual minority students while abroad?


      Time to Engage:

    • It is important for students with mental health challenges to prepare for the shift to a new environment and routine during studying abroad. Many students who study abroad compare their emotions during the first couple of weeks abroad to their first semester at college. Think back to what you needed during that time. What resources did you use? What would you have done differently? Next, engage with your mental health team, including doctors, counselors, therapists and advisors to make a plan to stay healthy. Different countries might have limited knowledge of mental illness and the language barriers might make it difficult to seek out mental health professionals, so it is important to plan ahead. If you rely on regular counseling or medications, you will need to arrange those abroad before traveling.

      Counseling
      Speak with your mental health team and the study abroad advisor at MassArt about the best plan for you while abroad. One good resource is MySSP that is available to all MassArt students. It may also be possible to set up regular, in-person counseling sessions at your host institution or nearby where you’ll be studying. The study abroad advisor is able to help with that.

      Medications
      It is important that you maintain any medication regimens while abroad. You are encouraged to consider the time difference and how that might affect you and your medications. Additionally, some medications may not be available or may even be illegal in your host country. Speak to your team about what you need and what will be available to you while abroad. Some students have opted for a program in a closer time zone, others have switched medications a few months in advance, and others have had someone at home send them over. Depending on your needs and the host country, we can work together on a solution.

      Time to Reflect:
      • • What are the health services like in the destination?
      • • What is the culture's perception of medication, and what is/is not available?
      • • What are the cultural attitudes toward people with mental health challenges in the host country?
      • • Will counseling and therapy be available, and is it offered in my native language?
      • • If I take medications, will I have access to them or are there overseas equivalents?
      • • Are there gyms or parks nearby that I can use for exercise?
      • • Does the program provide a form of support system?
      • • How do the classroom setting and physical environment differ?
      • • Are there pharmacies close to the housing facilities?
      • • What is the policy for confidentiality?
      • • What privacy protections apply abroad?
      • • Am I mentally prepared to live abroad?
      • • Have I spoken to a trusted medical professional about traveling abroad?
      • • How important is geographic closeness to friends and family?
      • • How will I keep in touch with my support system at home?
      • • Am I comfortable disclosing my mental health issue?
      • • How do I adjust my medication regimen when crossing time zones?


      Time to Engage:

    • MassArt has had students in their teens and students in their 60s study abroad through us. We hope everyone considers it!

      Time to Reflect:
      • • Do I have work, home, and/or family obligations that prevent me from studying abroad for an extended period of time?
      • • What is the age range of students in my program?
      • • How do people in my host country view students who are not traditionally college aged students?
      • • What skills do I want to gain or improve while I’m abroad?


      Time to Engage:

    • As someone who is living as a racial or ethnic minority, you may already have developed skills to thrive while living in the U.S. Some returnees say that studying abroad was a nice break! However, you should still prepare for the cultural adjustment you’ll experience when traveling abroad.

      Time to Reflect:
      • • How is my racial/ethnic group perceived in my host country?
      • • What are the cultural norms in the host country?
      • • Will I experience any form of discrimination?
      • • How should I react if I find something offensive?
      • • If I am living with a host family, have they housed students from my background before?
      • • Will there be other minority students in the program?
      • • Who will I contact if I experience racial or discriminatory incidents?
      • • Does the program have support staff that can help me if an incident occurs?
      • • Are there additional funding sources I can look into?
      • • Am I used to being part of the majority at home but will be a minority abroad, or vice versa?
      • • What kind of stereotypes exist there?
      • • Are there any safety considerations to be aware of?


      Time to Engage:

    • Studying abroad can be a great opportunity to learn about different religions. Before visiting a country, learn about the majority religion that is being practiced in the host country. If you are planning to practice abroad, ask your program staff or locals if there are any places of worship relative to you that you can practice safely. Even if you do not plan to practice abroad, this is a great opportunity to be an ally for your peers who might want some company to practice abroad.

      Another important aspect is learning about the degree of religious tolerance there is in your host country, especially in regard to your own beliefs or non-beliefs. The host country’s religious tolerance can inform you when and where it would be comfortable and safe for you to discuss your religious or non-religious views.

      Time to Reflect:
      • • What is the dominant religion in the host country?
      • • Will I be a part of the religious majority or minority abroad?
      • • Are there any laws regarding religion?
      • • Is there a separation between religion and government?
      • • How tolerant is the host country of other religions, or atheists and agnostics?
      • • Is it safe for me to wear religious symbols?
      • • Will my religious holidays be observed in the host country?
      • • How can I respect the host country's religion and participate in cultural events, even if I don't practice the religion?
      • • What is the food through the program like and does it offer options for certain dietary and religious restrictions?
      • • What places of worship exist and are they close to the housing?
      • • How much do I know about the religion(s) of the host country and the role religion plays in its society?
      • • How will I adjust my religious practice abroad?
      • • If I plan to live in a homestay, am I open to living in a homestay with a diverse religious background from myself?


      Time to Engage:

    • Each country has a different attitude towards people with disabilities. In some countries, people assume that those with disabilities need and want help. In other countries, accessibility services could be very different from what is available in the U.S. Talk to your program director or study abroad advisor to learn more about accessibility available in your host country. Visiting another country might be challenging. However, your experience will help you gain a new perspective on how other cultures treat people with disabilities.

      Time to Reflect:
      • • How are people with my disability viewed in the host country?
      • • How accessible are places in the host country?
      • • What are the physical environments like?
      • • What medications are or are not available in the host country, and will my insurance cover them?
      • • How should I react if people give me unsolicited help?
      • • Will my disability prevent me from participating in certain excursions?
      • • What housing options exist?
      • • What accommodations are available through the program?
      • • Is learning mainly through studio work, lecture, readings, independent research, etc.?
      • • Is transportation available and accessible?
      • • Does the program have a support staff that can help me if an incident occurs?
      • • Are there additional funding sources I can look into?
      • • If field trips are not accessible and are required for a course, will alternative access be available?
      • • Am I willing to disclose my disability to others?
      • • What type of support will I need while abroad?
      • • Who will fund any special accommodations?
      • • Will I need note taking assistance?
      • • Will I need a mobility assistant to help me?
      • • Will I need extended time on assignments or exams?


      Time to Engage:

    • Veterans can experience life overseas in a different way than they may have experienced while in the military. Individuals in some countries might have unexpectedly negative or positive opinions about the U.S. military. It is important to learn about the attitudes that the locals hold regarding the U.S. military and to be mindful of their experiences. You may also want to speak to the Office of Financial Services about using VA payments for studying abroad.

      Time to Reflect:
      • • What is the country's public perception of U.S. and its military?
      • • Is there conflict between the U.S. and the country?
      • • Is it safe to disclose my veteran status to the country's citizens?
      • • Will there be health and counseling services available?
      • • How can I pay for the program since the GI Bill prohibits me from paying study abroad "fees" that are not required?
      • • Can I use my VA benefits to help fund my study abroad experience? If so, do my courses need to apply to my degree program or can I take other courses of interest?
      • • Do the courses need any special approval? Is my program able to make accommodations, including single rooms, private bathrooms and certain roommates?
      • • Will it be OK to be the only U.S. student in my program?
      • • Do you want to be a part of a veteran community?
      • • Are there situations where you would not want to disclose your veteran status?


      Time to Engage:

    • Women’s experiences studying abroad varies due to each culture’s general attitudes regarding women. What is perceived to be common behavior for women in the U.S might not be perceived in the same light abroad. To avoid misinterpretations, women should consider the cultures they are visiting. Sometimes, the behavior of women that is considered ‘normal’ in the U.S. might have a sexual connotation in other cultures. A way to avoid misinterpretations is to speak to women who have been or are from your host county to discuss what behaviors are culturally appropriate.

      Time to Reflect:
      • • What are the gender roles in the host country?
      • • What are the standards of behavior in the culture?
      • • What stereotypes of my gender exist in the host country?
      • • How do women in the country commonly dress?
      • • How do men and women commonly interact in the host country?
      • • Are they segregated by gender?
      • • How do men treat women in the host country?
      • • Are there differences in political and social power based on gender?
      • • How do local women react to sexual harassment?
      • • Are there any safety considerations I should be aware of?
      • • Are birth control and toiletries that I need accessible in the host country?
      • • How should I react if a sexist incident occurs?
      • • Who can I talk to if I experience harassment?
      • • Have other students experienced sexual harassment while abroad?
      • • How do my personal values compare with my host country's attitudes about socially accepted gender roles?
      • • What boundaries will I have while abroad and how can I make them clear?


      Time to Engage: