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Students Share Their Experiences Navigating Race, Ethnicity, and Identity Abroad

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IES Abroad
November 16, 2021

While there is so much to celebrate in the vastness of our unique identities, the reality is that there are cultures and places in the world that may not understand the cultures and places we originate from, and vice versa. Sometimes this can create a sense of confusion as we travel the world and learn more through study abroad. That's why, at IES Abroad, we make it our mission to be equitable and inclusive, and we are constantly refining our approach as we carve space for various identities to come together to celebrate and uplift one another.

We wanted to share some firsthand accounts of what our IDEA bloggers experienced as they navigated their race, ethnicity, and identity abroad so future IES Abroad students to know that they are never alone in their journey:

Shane Y. headshot

“People in both the U.S. and Spain are quick to deny that people in their country and the systems that they operate in have racial bias. When asking different people in bars and restaurants about racism in Spain, most claimed that Spain was a very welcoming country, where people of different races can thrive in an economy that is reliant on tourism. The sentiment is similar in the U.S., as the majority of Americans claim they themselves do not have racial bias. This common dominator of disavowing racism is prevalent in both countries but translates to different outcomes." - Shane Y. (IES Abroad Barcelona | University of Connecticut) - "Differentiating Global Attitudes Towards Difference"

Kandise L. headshot

"So many times I’ve been the only Black person in a given social circle and forced to educate others about my experience or marginalization. But with la mia squadra di amici (my team of friends), I don’t need to explain. I can dart an eye at my Black IES Abroad friends when an old Italian woman touches my braids out of curiosity without asking (yes, that’s happened abroad) or European people stare at us just because they’re not accustomed to seeing Black people who are neither service workers nor famous musicians." - Kandise L. (IES Abroad Milan | Northwestern University) - "Melanin in Milan: Finding My People Abroad"

Elizabeth W. headshot

"I seriously thought it was so cool that I was able to meet so many other Chinese people, and it’s something I never would have expected from a study abroad trip in Europe. I could never have imagined myself speaking Chinese to a stranger in any other country besides China. Being able to converse in Chinese has allowed me to create memories with people I wouldn’t have gotten to known as well otherwise.” - Elizabeth W. (IES Abroad Siena | University of Texas – Austin) - "A Chinese American in Europe"

Michael C. headshot

"Consider how heterogeneous the country is and whether the citizens generally have racist/xenophobic sentiments. Generally, if a city/country is more homogenous, they may be more ignorant about other races and you may be subjected to micro-aggressions, ignorance, and/or racism. As good as it is to step out of your comfort zone to grow as an individual, you don’t want to be uncomfortable and fear for your safety while abroad. Therefore, you should consider who you are when deciding where to study. Race, gender, and religion are some factors to consider when studying abroad, but you should think more about who you are and how you will be perceived/accepted." - Michael C. (IES Abroad Barcelona | University of Rochester) - "What to Consider When Choosing Your Studying Abroad Location"

Ameer D. headshot

We have too many intelligent people and resources in the world to allow a reality such as poverty to affect so many lives. We should all lift as we climb and bring others with us to success! Community outreach, and my commitment to addressing social issues runs deep through my soul, and my visit to the Langa community truly re-iterated the legacy I envision to leave behind as I continue to make significant impacts in society.” - Ameer D. (IES Abroad Cape Town | Howard University) - "Are There Any Similarities in the Black Experience Abroad?"

Rachel B. headshot

"In America, Jews walk around with this inherited trauma of genocide. And that trauma dictates so much of our behavior; our voting patterns, our attitudes towards Israel, how we view Germany in general, and how and even why we identify so strongly within the tribe. And amongst the American Jewish community, this is commonly understood knowledge and feels like a very real collective experience. But America as a whole does not really validate this experience… And I think part of the reason I felt ironically at home in Berlin was because the city totally understands that, and the whole city is committed to talking about it and educating, as well as moving on and building reconciliation. That felt like a breath of fresh air.” - Rachel B. (IES Abroad Amsterdam | Brandeis University) - Returning to Germany: Exploration and Reconciliation

Charles H. headshot

"Mainstream Buenos Aires isn’t always representative of everyone here in this big city. Therefore, I felt out of place a lot of times. However, these are some of the places that meant the most to me in the city where I could go and just be another guy in the room." - Charles H. (IES Abroad Buenos Aires | St. Olaf College) - "A Latin-American Guide to Buenos Aires"

Vanessa M. headshot

"I befriended a young Hungarian man earlier in my time in Berlin and I remember him asking me once during our conversation what it was like to be American for me. I remember talking to him about my journey as identifying as Latina, and then Mexican-American, and then Chicana, but never fully “American” because I couldn’t fathom the identity of American for me when so often in America, I’m made to feel anything but.” - Vanessa M. (IES Abroad Berlin | Haverford College) - "Being Chicana in Europe"

Finding ways to acknowledge and uplift the lives of those around us and our own lives is a continual process, and we are committed to doing the work. Learn more about our commitment to diversity and the cross-departmental ways we uphold this commitment with our mission at IES Abroad.

These IES Abroad students embarked on their journeys abroad while combatting stereotypes, microaggressions, and all odds to contribute to their life stories in meaningful ways. We hope that you are empowered to know that you can do the same. Are you ready to start your own journey and explore your identity abroad? Explore our resources before you start your application

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To us, diversifying study abroad is more than a range of faces on a catalog.

It’s dreaming of a world where difference is celebrated. A world where people who look, think, act, feel, talk, move, believe, and love in many different ways join together in a shared understanding that our differences can be what unites us. That they are what make us stronger, kinder, better people. We are actively creating this world, one study abroad journey at a time.

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