Diversity & Identity Abroad International Students

Penn students who call another country outside of the United States “home” may face a unique set of challenges when pursuing a global opportunity. Making the decision to study in the United States and to enroll at Penn may have already been a difficult decision. Many international students, however, do choose to go abroad during their undergraduate studies, and find great value and fulfillment in their experience. 

It is important for international students to consider their background prior to and upon arriving in their host country. Locals may have certain perceptions of students from American universities who travel abroad and you may find yourself battling those stereotypes. For international students whose native language is not English, you may have to navigate additional language barriers with the locally spoken language in the host country. Upon sharing your nationality with locals or classmates, other misconceptions or stereotypes may be placed upon you, adding an additional layer of complexity in explaining your identity to the community. 

A strong understanding of your own path in arriving in the host country can aid you as you navigate tough situations. Recognition of any positions of privilege, whether by being a passport holder of a certain country or as a student of an Ivy League institution, is a good place to start in considering how locals may perceive you. Patience and resilience, in having to answer “Where are you from?” far too often than you prefer, are qualities that you may hone and develop during your time abroad. Persevering past the initial challenges will result in deeper relationships with new classmates and locals, and also provide valuable opportunities to mutually learn from each other. 

Penn Abroad recommends that international students meet with advisors in Penn’s International Student and Scholar Services office prior to departure to ensure continued US visa compliance, to gather resources for cultural adjustment and readjustment, and to obtain appropriate travel signatures.  

Questions to Consider

  • What did I learn about myself when adjusting to my studies at a university in the United States? Are there lessons learned that I can apply to my study abroad experience? 
  • What on-campus and off-campus resources will I utilize as I prepare to study abroad? 
  • Are there any scholarships available from my home country to use for my study abroad experience? 
  • How might my experience as a student in the U.S. differ from my experience in my intended host country? 
  • Do I plan to travel to other countries besides the host country while abroad? What visa requirements are there to travel between those countries? 


Penn’s International Student and Scholar Services 

Plan for Study Abroad as an International Student in the U.S. 

Can International Students in the US Study Abroad? 

Five Upsides to Studying Abroad as an International Student