Diversity & Identity Abroad
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The University of Pennsylvania is committed to providing each one of its students a meaningful global experience. Penn Abroad recognizes that your time abroad may shape how you see yourself and the world. Regardless of your background, we are dedicated to making sure you feel supported during one of the most exciting experiences you will have at Penn. Below, you can find resources both inside and outside of Penn that can help you navigate your identity abroad. We encourage you to utilize these resources before, during, and after your experience.
While you may be a racial or ethnic minority in the United States, you may appear to be in the majority of your host country. Even so, the people in your host country may identify you first as American. Alternatively, you may find yourself in the racial or ethnic minority for the first time. Either situation can be unsettling and challenging. Keep in mind that you may be visiting a place with a homogenous population that may be curious about your background. Support yourself by learning more about the culture, connecting with other minority students both abroad and back on campus, and taking the time to reflect on your experience.
You may find that the women in your host country are perceived or treated differently than how you are used to back at home. It can be difficult to navigate a situation in which you have less freedom or in which your safety is not guaranteed. Remember that different cultures view gender roles differently, so it can be useful to find out more about the culture that you will be a part of. Other ways to feel supported and safe include reaching out to other women (both in your program and in the local community) and always being aware of your surroundings.
Depending on where you go abroad, you will find a wide range of attitudes towards sexuality and gender identity. Some countries have legalized gay marriage and are very accepting of those who identify as LGBTQ+, while other countries openly look down upon the community and may even outlaw homosexuality. It is important to research the laws and attitudes of your host country so that you know how to feel comfortable and safe. Speaking with your on-the-ground contact about local norms and attitudes is a great way to feel supported, along with finding a community of students with similar identities.
While Penn Abroad aims to provide access to global education for students with disabilities, it is important to know that each country and host institution may have different laws and practices regarding specific accommodations. It is in your best interest to work with Student Disabilities Services early on in your research of different abroad options so that they can recommend locations based on levels of accessibility. Penn will work with you to find an abroad option that meets your interests and needs, and while you are abroad, you will be registered with International SOS, a 24/7 resource you can access via phone or the internet to help with any medical, security, and emergency questions that may come up.
Religion can play an important role in your host country and can be a telling glimpse into the country’s culture as a whole. Whether or not you practice a religion, it is helpful to research the customs of the religions practiced in your host country. If you do practice a religion, you will also want to ask your on-the-ground contacts about when and where you can practice your religion safely, as well as how you can uphold any religious dietary accommodations. Use your experience abroad as a way to learn more about your religion, religions around the world, and how religion intersects with a country’s overall culture.
If you are the first person in your family to go to college, it may be daunting to think about being the first person in your family to study abroad. The benefits of going abroad are many, from helping you figure out what you want to study at Penn to preparing you for a job after graduation. Please remember that these experiences are for you, and Penn is here to help you navigate this exciting process. Find people who will support you before, during, and after your time abroad. A great place to start is with mentors, professors, or other first-generation students at Penn who have also been abroad and can understand your situation.