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Student Identities Abroad

We want to have you learn how to thrive in another culture and explore new spaces while feeling included, welcomed, and seen. A lot of this has to do with the identities we take into a new area and how they intersect with one another and the host culture. Understanding your own identities can help you get more comfortable in a new culture, express yourself to others, and actively engage in a new setting.

The diversity wheel from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine’s Diversity Leadership Council is a great resource for visualizing cultural diversity. “The center of the wheel represents internal dimensions that are usually most permanent or visible. The outside of the wheel represents dimensions that are acquired and change over the course of a lifetime. The combinations of all of these dimensions influence our values, beliefs, behaviors, experiences and expectations and make us all unique as individuals” (Johns Hopkins Diversity Leadership Council, n.d.).

You may also be able to explore your identities in ways you have not been able to before! For example, you can be Latinx/e and be able to explore heritage in a Spanish-speaking country, or you may practice your faith in different or similar ways in your new home or speak a dialect not commonly heard by locals. Others may see you as a U.S. American first, before anything else, something you may not be familiar with. In addition, the information they receive about politics, events, and popular culture from the U.S. may shape their perception, and your identity greatly informs your response or knowledge of these topics.

Additionally, different members of your group may be treated differently depending on their identities, appearance, cultural norms, and whether or not they have some commonalities with individuals from the host culture. For example, you may be seen as an immigrant if you share some physical characteristics of the most predominant immigrant group in the country. Or, if you speak the local language, you may be treated differently, or have more of an “in” socially.

Reflection Questions: 

  • How have my identities given me skills, knowledge, and traits I can use to help me abroad?
  • How do my identities intersect? At what point can one identity be more apparent or involved than the other? How could this change abroad?
  • How will I be perceived at my destination? What identities may be more salient or of interest to locals?
  • What are some events or issues happening in the U.S. that I may be asked about, and do they have anything to do with any of my identities?
  • What are some events or issues at my destination that could relate to any of my identities, or individuals who share some identity traits?
  • How are individuals from the U.S. seen or perceived at my destination?


Adapted from similar content at Arizona State University, IES Abroad