International Studies & Programs

Home > Students > Admitted Students > Life Abroad > Race and Ethnicity

Race and Ethnicity

As a student traveling abroad you may be concerned about potential racial bias and prejudice without your usual support system. Or, you may be looking forward to being part of the majority population for the first time in your life. You may find that confronting and coping to a community with a different racial and ethnic makeup can be a learning experience.

Considering Education Abroad

Before you even begin investigating education abroad options, it's best to talk it over with your parents or family. Your parents are always welcome to talk with the OSA staff and, whenever possible, they will be referred to parents of students who have already studied abroad. 

Many students of color assume that racism abroad may be so overwhelming that it would be better to stay home where you can predict the challenges. In fact, many students of color who study abroad have expressed surprise when they are treated as U.S. Americans first and as extraordinary students who have earned the right to study in the host country.

"Do it now. It really doesn't matter where you go. What matters is that you go."
-Starlett Craig, Top 10 Reasons for African American Students to Go Abroad 

Choosing a Destination

When you consider potential destinations, take into consideration all facets of a culture, including possible racism and discrimination. Research the political, cultural and historical context of the country where you'll be studying. If you would like to speak with a student of your same racial or ethnic background, the our office may be able to put you in touch with students who have studied abroad. Methods of overcoming discrimination abroad can be similar to the methods you use at home. Finding new support groups and adjusting to a new comfort zone are important to having a fulfilling education abroad experience.

While Abroad

Cross-cultural differences, including those that are offensive, are an integral part of the education abroad experience. There are several ways to adjust to and deal with a different culture's social standards. 

  • Use your communication, foreign language, and coping skills. 
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help and reach out for support. 
  • Research minority student organizations on your host campus. 
  • Know of your legal rights as they pertain to discrimination abroad. 
  • Contact with organizations that combat discrimination in the immediate area. 
  • File complaint reports with local police departments or the U.S. embassy. 
  • Always carry proper identification.
  • Maintain pride and self-confidence by acting tactfully. 
  • Keep in contact with on-site program directors and counselors. 
  • Use your network of friends, both abroad and at home. 
  • Talk with your host family, if you have one.

Returning Home

As difficult as it is to adapt to an entirely new culture, it can be just as challenging to come back home after. You may find you aren't the only one who changed when you were gone. Friends and family may be interested in stories or photos for a while, but don't really "understand." It may be hard to express your feelings in words. Friends and family may have difficulty relating to your experience because it hasn't been a part of theirs. 

Be creative in sharing your story: consider working as a Peer Adviser in the Office of Education Abroad, share your stories with student groups, enter the Spartans Abroad photo contest, write for The State News, the Lansing State Journal, or your local home paper. Help encourage more students to study abroad.

Resources for Students of Color

The Project for Learning Abroad, Training, and Outreach (PLATO) is an integrated study abroad training, certification, and diversity outreach program which provides comprehensive support resources for study abroad to all U.S. college and university students - with special support for underrepresented students.  PLATO has additional resources that focus on supporting diversity for several student populations. is a component of PLATO and is associated with the Center for Global Education.  AllAbroad is a clearinghouse of resources, information, and mentors that promotes greater diversity among study abroad participants, including efforts such as K-12, Community College, Multicultural Services, and Community outreach.  AllAbroad connects U.S. college and university students from diverse backgrounds to useful resources and study abroad mentors who share personal experiences and expertise in study abroad.

The Diversity and Inclusion Abroad Guide is a comprehensive resource from Diversity Abroad that focuses on specific topics including racial and ethnic minority students abroad, first generation students, heritage seekers, and religious diversity abroad.