Studying away is a great opportunity for personal growth, learning about different cultures, and experiencing life outside of Amherst. It is a transformative experience for many students and there is no substitute for the wealth of knowledge you can gain from that. However, one of the most important things to remember is that views on race and racial identity vary greatly depending on where you have opted to study. As such, race does play a role in everyone's study away experiences. Some questions to think about are:
- What is the attitude towards race in my host country?
- What are the racial stereotypes that I might encounter in my host country?
- How are people of color treated in my host country?
- What are my personal values about race and how does this differ from that of my host country?
- Will I be the only student of color on my program?
- Will I be part of the majority group for the first time in my life?
- Will I be part of the minority group for the first time in my life? If so, am I part of a privileged minority and how does that differenitiate my experience from other minorities in my host country?
- Will I "pass" in my host country or city?
- What privileges and/or challenges are associated with "passing"?
- Will I have access to products and services that I might need, such as hair care, a barber, etc.?
It is important to recognize these differences to minimize cultural misunderstanding and help you adjust to the culture of your host country. The following sections can help you begin to consider these questions in the context of your host country.
Microaggressions can certainly have malicious undertones, but they can also stem purely from curiosity, especially in more homogeneous places where someone might not have encountered many people who don't share a similar appearance or way of life. However, this does not justify these actions in any way. For people of color, microaggressions and racist remarks are not new experiences. However, being abroad can add an additional layer of difficulty as how these issues are addressed are not necessarily the same in every country. Being abroad creates the additional challenge of addressing microaggressions in a new context, while also remaining sensitive to cultural differences in the location that students may find themselves in. Students abroad may face a variety of examples of these experiences.
- Fetishization and Harassment: Anyone can be fetishezed or harassed regardless of nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other identity you may have. Most fetishsizers view their actions or statements as expressing a particular preference or ‘showing appreciation’. These experiences can take place in person with people you know, strangers on the street, and even online through sites like Tinder. While fetishization is not necessarily intended to be malicious, it is unnacceptable in any scenario. If you find yourself in this situation, try to find a safe way out. For more information, view the sexual harassment section on the Women and Gender Resources page.
- Misidentification: Misidentification can occur in any country and in a variety of ways. Though not always negative, how one is perceived can affect how a person is treated and can be very difficult to navigate. This can be due to the stereotypes that one may encounter and can include the racial and ethnic makeup of your host country. While it can be frustrating to be misidentified, and your immediate response may be anger or frustration, remember to take a step back and recognize that your perception of race may be different from that of your host city, especially if you are abroad.
- Nationality: With a population of more than 1800, Amherst College students come from more than forty states in the US and more than fifty countries around the world. Students come from varying nationalities and cultures. While being abroad students may find their nationality and personal background playing a role in their study away experience and their interactions with locals. It is important to remember that while Amherst is a culturally diverse place, many people have not had the exposure to international students the same way Amherst students have.
Microagressions aside, there are many cultural differences that can be striking when you are accustomed to a US context. However, we hope that the following list of tips will help you be aware of how things may change during your time away from Amherst.
- "Race", as a social construct, is seen differently in different places. While you might identify as "x" in the United States, when you go abroad you may be identified by locals as "y".
- Conversation around race in the United States varies greatly from the way in which racial discourse abroad occurs. As such, remember that words that may be offensive in the US may have a different context in your host location. This being said, there are certain words that are universally unnacceptable, and do not let being in a different context skew your view of this.
- Reach out to groups on Facebook to see how people who share your racial and/or ethnic identity have been treated in your receiving location. People are generally excited to help you understand the context you're coming into, and other people are your greatest resource.
While this is not an exhaustive list, this is a good place to start thinking about study away. Furthermore, understanding the way you will be perceived in your study away location will help ensure you face less culture shock and are better prepared to handle questions and comments you may face in your new environment.
Depending on your personal needs, it may be important to make a list of products you'll need that might be more difficult to find in your host city. Make sure to stock up on enough of these to last you at least your first few weeks, if not your entire time abroad. Among these are some of the following:
- Lotion (body and hair)
- Shea Butter
- Hair Gel
- Anti-frizz spray
Remember, prior planning will make your transition to your new environment smoother. Having these products on hand will help your body get used to your new location and help you acclimate.