UVM Study Abroad Pre-Departure Guidebook

Section 2 Cross Cultural Issues

Cultural Sensitivity and Norms: Students of Color

You may experience anxiety regarding your acceptance in, or ability to adapt socially and academically to, your new culture. As a person of a minority cultural, racial or ethnic group, you may be concerned about facing potential racial bias and prejudice without the comfort of your usual support system. On the other hand, you may be looking forward to being part of the majority population for the first time in your life. Or, you may be planning a self-discovery sojourn to the country or region of your family's heritage. Whatever reasons you have for studying abroad, you will find that confronting and coping with your adjustment abroad, as painful as it may be at times, can be a positive growth experience. It may not always be fun but, in fact, it can present a unique learning opportunity that will serve you well in the future.

Encountering a new culture will enable you to tap into social and intellectual capabilities you may have never experienced before and force you to discover what you have taken for granted about yourself as an individual and a member of a particular ethnic or racial group. Understanding another culture will enhance your self-awareness, lead to personal growth, and help you develop a greater acceptance of, and compassion for, cultural differences. You may not always admire or endorse the conditions abroad, but it is guaranteed that you will better understand the U.S. upon your return.

Below are some tips to help you consider study abroad, prepare for your journey, deal with situations abroad, and incorporate your experience into your everyday life after you return.

When you consider potential destinations, make an informed choice that takes into consideration all facets of a culture, including possible racism. Research the political, cultural and historical context of the country where you will be studying to find information on the racial climate, and be prepared for what you may face. Be aware of possible discrimination and racial prejudices that exist in your host culture. Just as the situation may be uncomfortable in the U.S., certain situations may arise abroad that you should be aware of, and able to overcome. Methods of overcoming discrimination abroad can be similar to the methods you use at home. Although these assets may not be at your direct disposal, finding new support groups and adjusting to a new comfort zone are things ALL participants face in study abroad. You can prevent tension by researching the host culture PRIOR to departure.

Understanding cross-cultural differences, including those that may be offensive, are an integral part of the entire study abroad “experience” for all students. There are various methods that may assist your immersion into a new culture, and should be recognized as assets to help maintain comfort and security abroad:

There are also various coping methods you can use to deal with issues while abroad:

For additional information visit the Access International website: http://www.ucis.pitt.edu/aie/students/

Adapted from http://studyabroad.msu.edu/people/studentsofcolor/index.html and Sanders, Christa E. Voicing Concern about Discrimination Abroad: The History and Experience of Voices of Change in Working with US Students in Spain. SAFETI On-Line Newsletter: vol. 1, no. 2, Spring-Summer 2000.

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