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Information for Multicultural Students

Studying Abroad

"…for the first time in their lives, they (study abroad multicultural students) were able to step outside the confines of racial barriers long enough to see themselves- and those they met- from a perspective other than race. For the first time, they were able to perceive their personal skills and strengths accurately. The international experiences served as a catalyst, inspiring them to embark on learning and careers that they never would have dreamed possible had they not spent an extended time outside their own country."

-- Joy Gleason Carew, Associate Director of the International Center at the University of Louisville.

References used when compiling this information can be viewed here.

Given today's global economies, it is imperative that all students acquire knowledge of, and sensitivity to, global issues. This knowledge and experience will enable students to participate fully in tomorrow's workforce that will be even more ethnically and culturally diverse than it is today. MSU's Office of Study Abroad, therefore, encourages greater diversity in study abroad, particularly among students of color. Not only will your participation make you competitive for graduate school and in the work place, it will also ensure that our programs reflect the diversity of our campus and our country.

You may experience anxiety regarding your acceptance in, or ability to adapt socially and academically to, your new culture. As a multicultural student, you may be concerned about facing potential racial bias and prejudice without the comfort of your usual support system. On the other hand, you may be looking forward to being part of the majority population for the first time in your life. Or, you may be planning a self-discovery sojourn to the country or region of your family's heritage. Whatever reasons you have for studying abroad, you will find that confronting and coping with your adjustment abroad, as painful as it may be at times, can be a positive growth experience. It may not always be fun but, in fact, it can present a unique learning opportunity that will serve you well in the future.

Encountering a new culture will enable you to tap into social and intellectual capabilities you may have never experienced before and force you to discover what you have taken for granted about yourself as an individual and a member of a particular ethnic or racial group. Understanding another culture will enhance your self-awareness, lead to personal growth, and help you develop a greater acceptance of, and compassion for, cultural differences. You may not always admire or endorse the conditions abroad, but it is guaranteed that you will better understand the U.S. upon your return.

Below are some tips to help you consider study abroad, prepare for your journey, deal with situations abroad, and incorporate your experience into your everyday life after you return.

Considering Study Abroad

Before you even begin investigating study 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.

What are some reasons to share with your family on the value of study 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.

Start by checking out the study abroad website for useful and practical information for all students who are considering study abroad.

Financing Your Experience

Study abroad is an investment in your future. Like any other type of investment, it requires planning, careful management, creativity, perseverance and commitment. How can you pay for it? Start by planning far in advance (a year is suggested). The cost of programs varies as much as the number of programs. By planning and selecting certain programs, you may find that the cost of study abroad is far less than you imagined, and may even be the same as staying on campus. Check out the MSU Study Abroad Web site for suggestions on financing your experience as well as a full description of scholarships and information on applying financial aid to your experience.

Before Leaving

When you consider potential destinations, make an informed choice that takes into consideration all facets of a culture, including possible racism. Research the political, cultural and historical context of the country where you will be studying to find information on the racial climate, and be prepared for what you may face. Visit the Office of Study Abroad (OSA) to talk with a peer adviser. If you would like to speak with a student of your same racial or ethnic background, the office may be able to put you in touch with students who have studied abroad and expressed an interest in talking to future study abroad students.

Be aware of possible discrimination and racial prejudices that exist in your host culture. Just as the situation may be uncomfortable in America, certain situations may arise abroad that you should be aware of, and able to overcome. Methods of overcoming discrimination abroad can be similar to the methods you use at home. Although these assets may not be at your direct disposal, finding new support groups and adjusting to a new comfort zone are things ALL participants face in study abroad. You can prevent tension by researching the host culture PRIOR to departure.

On site

MSU is aware of many cultural dynamics abroad and wants to make your experience as positive as possible. MSU realizes that understanding cross-cultural differences, including those that may be offensive, are an integral part of the entire study abroad "experience." There are various methods that may assist your immersion into a new culture, and should be recognized as assets to help maintain comfort and security abroad:

There are also various coping methods you can use to deal with issues while abroad: **

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 being away for any period of time. Upon your return home, you may find you aren't the only one who has changed during your absence. Friends and family may be interested in stories or photos for a while, but "really don't understand." It may be difficult to express your feelings in words. Remember that many people may have difficulty relating to what you are saying because it hasn't been a part of their experience.

There are countless ways to use the interests and skills you will gain abroad. Check the Study Abroad Student Handbook for ideas on how to continue your international experience. As a multicultural student, your stories and experiences should be shared with other students of color who may have the same pre-departure questions you had. Be creative in sharing this information: submit a paragraph description to Tales from Abroad; provide feedback on improving this handout; consider working as a Peer Adviser in the Office of Study Abroad; share your stories with student groups to which you belong; enter the Spartans Abroad Photo Contest; write for The State News , the Lansing State Journal , or your local home paper. Help encourage more students of color to study abroad!

Study abroad will allow you to go as far as your intellectual, linguistic and cultural curiosity permits. If you want to do something, just do it. As Starlett Craig mentions in Top 10 Reasons for African American Students to Go Abroad: "Do it now. It really doesn't matter where you go. What matters is that you go" ***

*Adapted from Sanders, Christa E. Voicing Concern about Discrimination Abroad: The History and Experience of Voices of Change in Working with US Students in Spain. SAFETI On-Line Newsletter: vol. 1, no. 2, Spring-Summer 2000.


***Craig, Starlett. Top 10 Reasons for African American Students to Go Abroad. Transitions Abroad, July/August 1998 Volume XXII, No. 1.