Race and Ethnicity Abroad

Jump to student and staff reflections

According to the Institute of International Education Open Doors data, more than 270,600 American students studied abroad in the 2009-2010 school year. Of those students who studied abroad, 21.4% identified as US racial or ethnic minorities. Most students who have studied abroad describe the experience as both rewarding and challenging. For students who identify as racial or ethnic minorities, some of the rewards and challenges may be directly related to identity. When you travel abroad, you are perceived through a new cultural filter that may categorize and interpret your race, ethnicity and other identity attributes quite differently than what you are used to in the US. Being abroad will present opportunities to think about identity in a new cultural context, and this can be a rewarding learning experience that challenges the way you think about yourself, your community, and your place in the world.

Discussing Racial and Ethnic Identity with a Study Abroad Advisor

The Study Abroad office is committed to facilitating the participation of students from diverse backgrounds. Office staff members are available to answer questions about the study abroad process, and to help provide resources that shed light on how race or ethnicity may be experienced, viewed and understood differently abroad.

Early discussions about race and ethnicity can help you develop a realistic understanding of how your identity might play into the experience in different locations. Please contact us at 319-335-0353 to schedule an appointment with a study abroad advisor.

To help facilitate the discussion of race and ethnicity with your study abroad advisor, here are a few examples of questions posed by previous students:

  • How will I be perceived in my host community?
  • How many students of color typically study on the programs I am considering?
  • Will I experience discrimination in the country I study in? Who can I talk to about it if I do?
  • I will be studying in the country my parents are from, but I have never been there before and I don't speak the language. Can I contact other "heritage" students who may have done this before me so I can learn from their experiences?
  • Are there additional funding sources I can look into?
  • How can I explain to my family that a study abroad experience can contribute to achievement of my career goals?

These are examples of some questions you may wish to discuss with a study abroad advisor or with potential program providers.

Student and Staff Reflections

In addition to the assistance that a study abroad advisor can provide, you can find several student reflections and staff perspectives from members of the University of Iowa community who have agreed to share their experiences in hopes that you might benefit from what they learned on their journeys abroad. Read these reflections here.

Helpful Resources

Below you will find a list of relevant UI links and external resources for diverse travelers. The resources include organizations, articles, success stories, and tips intended for diverse groups of students who would like more information about traveling abroad.

Internal Links

Office of Student Life Cultural Centers

Includes information about the University of Iowa Cultural Centers: Afro-American Center, Asian Pacific American Center, Latino Native American Center and LGBTQ Center.

Center for Diversity and Enrichment

The University of Iowa's center for students who are underrepresented in higher education offers a variety of services and resources.

External Links

IES Abroad

This is a program provider that offers funding opportunities specifically for diverse groups studying abroad, including racial and ethnic minorities. The site lists resources by country and provides some helpful guides for parents and students.

All Abroad

Website intended to "help all students study abroad." The site includes travel and study tips, additional resources, and information geared toward specific ethnic and racial groups. Also valuable are stories from faculty and student mentors addressing specific audiences.

Diversity Abroad

Gives an overview of the importance of diversity in study abroad and shares perspectives from students on their study abroad experiences.

Diversity in Study Abroad from Brown University

This site includes quotes and stories from study abroad returnees who identify as ethnic and racial minorities in the US. It also includes testimonials from students who describe the experience of being in an ethnic or racial minority in their study abroad host country.


Links to organizations, resources, and scholarships that support academic advancement for underrepresented groups.

Michigan State University Multicultural Scholarship Page

A list of study abroad scholarships for multicultural students: African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino/Latina Americans and American Indians.

Black Life China

A resource for African Americans living or planning to live in China or anyone interested in the experiences of American minorities living in China.  Black Life China is also a platform for Black Americans to share their stories in their own voices about life in China.

Travel Noire

Cultivated insights from a global community of Black travelers.

In the News

August 2011, Black Enterprise article: 'Studying Abroad Still an Option for College Students of Color'

February 2012, Agnes Scott College: List of famous black (African-American, Afro-Cuban, or African) leaders that studied abroad

January 2014, New York Times' Personal Journeys column: 'Traveling While Black'