Identity Dynamics in Your Host Country
For those of us who identify as American while living in America, we know that when it comes to identifying ourselves, we often consider our ethnicity, our gender, our sexuality, our religious affiliation, etc. Chances are most of us rarely think about our nationality while we’re in the U.S. However, when preparing to study abroad, it’s important to note that, often, those we meet while abroad will view us through the lens of our nationality first. Other aspects of our identities, though, may factor into how we are perceived or treated while abroad, as well.
So, before leaving the U.S., it’s important to take into account how identity dynamics may, in part, shape your study abroad experience in your host country. We highly encourage you and other students to learn as much as you can about how your personal identity(ies) are perceived in your host country. Social and intercultural dynamics in your host country may be shaped by global or local media images, host country experiences with immigration, the after effects of war or relations with other countries, and/or religious norms. The more you know about these factors, the better idea you’ll have of how you and other U.S. student peers may be perceived in your host country. For instance, a Muslim student in Morocco may have a different experience in the host culture, and may have different resources available to them than perhaps a Muslim student studying in Italy or in Japan.
No matter who you are or how you identify, please know that understanding the identity dynamics in your host country ahead of departing merely provides you with valuable contextual information. Knowing more before you go is useful since there’s no way to be certain as to how your identity will factor into your experience abroad positively, negatively or impartially. In a nutshell, we believe knowledge is power and can give you tools to navigate whatever experiences you’ll have.
For some students who may share some physical characteristics with locals in their host country, it’s important to know that locals may not always assume you’re from the U.S. On occasion, some students report instances when local residents perceive or behave toward them differently than toward other members of their cohort. Members of the local community may expect you to understand the language or certain cultural behaviors or nuances, when their expectations of other students may be more lenient.
It’s also important for all students to familiarize themselves with the sociopolitical climate of their host countries before arriving, because it may affect not only how you are perceived or treated, but the events and activities that you may choose to attend or participate in once you are on-site, possibly even on your host campus! Students should also note local attitudes regarding immigration in your host country, especially if you share some physical traits with the immigrant community.