Diversity & Identity Abroad Race & Ethnicity

Similar to how race and ethnicity can form your personal experience at Penn and in the United States, your race and ethnicity can also play a part in your experience abroad. While you may be part of a racial or ethnic minority in the United States, you may appear to be in the majority of your host country. Alternatively, you may find yourself in the racial or ethnic minority for the first time. 

The varied situations that you may encounter surrounding race and ethnicity may be unsettling and challenging. Your host country’s population could be largely homogenous, and you may find local residents curious about your background. Locals may have predispositions about you based on the color of your skin, the way you dress, the way you speak, and/or other physical characteristics. Doing research on your host country’s perceptions of different races and ethnicities prior to arriving in-country, and continuing to research these important issues while abroad, can help prepare you for challenging situations. 

You may find it worthwhile to frame your interactions with locals as opportunities to educate, helping the local community to understand that individuals all have unique identities, regardless of racial and ethnic backgrounds. You may find this exercise to be tiring and burdensome, or you may find this a rewarding chance to enrich and educate people in your host country.  

Support yourself by speaking with family and friends in-country and back home and by connecting with other minority students both abroad and on Penn’s campus. Consider using resources that Penn has to offer, including the campus cultural centers (such as PAACH, Makuu, La Casa Latina, etc.), among others, as you seek advice on how to handle uncomfortable situations that you may encounter abroad. 

Questions to Consider

  • Will I be a minority in my host country? Will I be part of the majority in my host country?  
  • How does my knowledge and familiarity with the culture and language impact how locals perceive me while abroad? 
  • What does it mean to be a minority in a different country outside of the United States? 
  • How does my host country’s perception of my race or ethnicity differ from what I’ve experienced in my hometown? At Penn? During travels within the United States? 


Makuu: The Black Cultural Center 

La Casa Latina: The Center for Hispanic Excellence 

PAACH: Pan-Asian American Community House 


PLATO - Resources to Support Underrepresented Students Abroad 

UC Santa Cruz - Study Abroad: Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality While Away 

Diversity Abroad’s How to Engage in Challenging Conversations Abroad