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Identity Abroad

Whether you’ve traveled before or this is your first time abroad, it’s important to consider your host country’s cultural attitude towards identities and how your identity may be affected by these attitudes. We encourage students to explore their identity before, during, and after their time studying abroad as well as share their experiences surrounding identity with others. 


Gender roles abroad may differ from those in the U.S. You may choose not to behave in the same ways as locals. It is important that you educate yourself about cultural gender roles within your host community to make sensitive choices about how you will behave while abroad and to understand how your personal views and opinions may be interpreted by your host culture. 

First Generation College Students 

Being the first individual in your family to attend college and study abroad is an achievement in itself. Navigating this process can be overwhelming, but SUNY New Paltz and many third-party organizations offer additional support for students who identify as first-gen. We encourage you to explore these resources and others as you prepare for your study abroad experience: 

  • Diversity Abroad (a leading international organization that supports diverse students in global experiences) 
  • I'm First (an online community featuring student blogs and video stories) 
  • (an in-depth resource of study abroad tips for first-gen students) 


You may already identify as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or queer student, or you may still be exploring your identity. The laws governing LGBTQ+ relationships and sexual activity differ from country to country, and you will find that the social climate, laws, and personal interactions of other cultures will often differ from the United States. Regardless of your country of citizenship, you must abide by the laws of the host country. While researching study abroad programs and preparing for departure, it is important to reflect on the culturally based ideas and definitions of gender and sexual identity. Consider carefully how your identity as a LGBTQ+ person may influence your relationships with host nationals, your cultural adjustment, and your overall education abroad experience.  

Race and Ethnicity

Racial and ethnic relations vary by culture. While you’re abroad, you may be part of an ethnic minority or majority for the first time in your life or must think about your racial and/or ethnic identity in a new way; perhaps you’ll be considered American first and your ethnic or racial identity will be secondary. This is an opportunity to discover how global perspectives can shift individual identities, consciously and subconsciously.  

For many students, studying abroad in a country of ancestry or cultural heritage is an opportunity to connect with their family as well as personal history and culture. For other students, studying abroad in a particular country or region can offer insights into their familial culture or ancestry—such as racial or religious ancestry—even if there is not a direct ancestral or familial connection. Students who identify themselves within these ideas are referred to as “heritage seekers,” and may discover that the way they have come to identify with their heritage differs from what is experienced while abroad. 

Religion and Spirituality 

Remember to stay open-minded about different beliefs you may encounter and consider how your own beliefs will be received abroad. Learning about a country’s major religions can be a good opportunity to learn more about its culture, norms, and practices. If you are planning to worship abroad, do some advanced research on available locations in or near your host city. Additionally, read student evaluations for your program to find helpful information and advice from students who have already studied abroad to gain a better understanding of the religious and spiritual ideologies and practices of the programs you’re interested in. Read international news sources to obtain a sense of current political and societal issues, as well. For students searching for a particular religious or spiritual group abroad, the following information curated by Northwestern University’s Global Learning Office may be helpful. 

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