Navigating Race While Abroad

August 5, 2019
Anna Johnson

Today’s blog post comes to us from University of Alabama student & #APIabroad Global Leader Anna Johnson. She studied abroad with us in Florence, Italy.

So you’ve made it abroad!

But now you’re trying to navigate through an incredibly different location that is likely very brand new to you. If you consider race a main part of your identity, you may feel in between worlds. This can be very frightening to deal with as a minority in your host country. If you haven’t checked out my previous blog entry on ways to prepare for the cultural change, don’t worry, I’ve got some more advice for you here. 

If you’re feeling uncomfortable or out of place, there are many different ways you can go about alleviating that:

1. Reach out to your program leaders or faculty members and tell them how you are feeling.

All of these individuals are truly there to help. If you are feeling out of place, confiding in one of these individuals can be a great way to feel less excluded. They can offer you advice on how to better assimilate to the culture, and they can also give you more context and information about the culture that can help ease your mind. Additionally, they can refer you to others who may relate well to your situation, or further aid you in the transition.

2. Look into finding local groups that have similar interests and backgrounds.

While it may be difficult to find others with a similar identity as you, and further, it may be difficult to develop a relationship with those individuals. But, there are other ways to help you feel less excluded. Volunteering is a great option as these are people who tend to be incredibly open-minded and supportive. These spaces can often be a safe place for you to go if you’re feeling outcast.

3. Join clubs and sign up for extracurricular activities.

Another extension of finding local groups would be to get more connected with students at the institution where you are studying. Making friends in class is great, and by joining clubs and extracurriculars, this further connects you to individuals with similar interests. As well, if you are in a study abroad program, this is a great way to meet others outside of your programs and gives you a chance to make even more meaningful connections.

Plane over clouds

4. Stay in contact with friends and family at home.

While it can be difficult to stay in contact depending on the time difference between your location and your loved ones, keeping this connection can help to alleviate some anxiety with being in a foreign place. As well, having those individuals to confide in if culture shock sets in offers more comfort even though you are not physically near them. While making connections while abroad is important, maintain the already existing ones is just as important and can be incredibly comforting. 

5. Ask questions

If you can, engage with friendly locals to learn more about their perspective and history. Often times, there is no true tension between groups, and merely an underlying history or cultural norm that is in place. Finding out from true locals their actual intentions and feelings may help alleviate any feelings of exclusion. Now, this doesn’t mean walk up to a stranger in the street! But sparking conversations with shop owners and restaurant owners can over time lead to meaningful connections and honest conversations. 

6. Reach out to your study abroad program leaders in your home country, especially if you feel unsafe.

These individuals are trained to deal with such issues. They are aware of the cultural differences that exist and can give you great advice on dealing with the change. As well, if the problem persists, they can find a solution to reassure your safety and wellbeing.

Most of these tips deal with building or maintaining connections.

When you are in the minority surrounded by others you don’t know, the experience can be incredibly daunting. But friend by friend, it can become less burdensome. Take it one step at a time, day by day and try to make the most of your trip by focusing on your goals and purpose for being abroad. But more than anything, reach out. There’s a network of people all around you that are more than willing and ready to help!


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