Diversity and Identity Abroad Heritage Seekers

If you have a specific desire to learn more about your heritage and ancestry during your study abroad experience, you may consider yourself a “heritage seeker”. Heritage seekers decide to study abroad in particular countries due to ancestral and cultural ties, as well as a desire to learn more about the history of their familial homeland, including the culture and language of their relatives. While abroad, heritage seekers may take the opportunity to connect in-person with relatives to get glimpses into the lives in which family members, both distant and not-so-distant, experienced. 

While in the United States, you may identify as a minority; while abroad, you may find yourself presenting as the majority. The jarring switch from minority to majority may become a source of confusion as you adjust to your host country. While outwardly blending in with the local community, you may struggle internally with fears of being mislabeled, misunderstood, or disappointing others, for example, when a local learns of your American education background. 

As a heritage seeker, you may face unique challenges while abroad. You might enter your study abroad experience with idealized views of what the country and culture is like, only to find those perceptions shattered or challenged over time. Approaching studying abroad with openness and empathy, while uncovering nuances about your heritage and family background, can provide fulfillment from studying abroad. Taking the opportunity to hear stories and learn from others will be integral to a meaningful and deeply personal experience abroad. 

Questions to Consider

  • How will I be perceived in my home country?
  • How should I react if I find something to be offensive? 
  • How might I feel to be a part of the majority abroad? 
  • How will I handle it if relatives ask for money or other favors while I am there? 
  • Will there be other heritage students in my program? 
  • I will be studying in the country my parents are from, but I have never been there before and I do not speak the language. How might I deal with the language barrier? 

Resources

Diversity Abroad - Resources for Heritage Seekers 

UC Santa Cruz Study Abroad - Heritage, Culture, and Diaspora Seekers 

Exploring my Mexican Identity in Mexico 

Asian in America, American in Asia 

Finding Identity as an Indian Heritage Student