Identity Abroad

At the University of the Incarnate Word, engaging with the global community is an inherent value of the Catholic intellectual tradition that dignifies every individual as a part of the greater human family. 

When a Cardinal goes abroad, they need to understand the concept of intersectionality, which is the "interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage," according to the Oxford Dictionary.

Being a student studying abroad will soon be an aspect of your identity as well. UIW Study Abroad encourages all students thinking about going abroad to learn about themselves and the diverse societal and cultural norms of their host country.

The resources below are starting points for questions you may want to research about your study abroad location before you apply and before you depart. For additional, location-specific information about your study abroad destination, feel free to set an appointment with the Study Abroad Coordinator, reach out to a Global Ambassador, or meet with another office on campus who knows about your situation.

Identities Abroad

First generation students (along with students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds) may be in an especially unique position to succeed in study abroad given previous experience with forging new paths for themselves in college and navigating unfamiliar environments and systems. They may also have unique challenges and concerns depending on financial circumstances and their support systems at home and on-campus. You might be especially concerned about how much it will cost to study abroad. If your family has not traveled much out of the country—let alone studied abroad for an extended period of time—you may not have many people from home who understand why you would want to leave the country, be able to help guide you through this experience, or help you to make it more affordable. Luckily, you don’t have to go it alone! In preparing for study abroad, here are a few tips and resources to help you successfully navigate the process and costs involved so that you take full advantage of this opportunity to learn and grow:

Define and articulate your reasons and goals for study abroad:

Especially if your family and friends are unfamiliar with travel and the study abroad experience, you may need to think strategically about articulating how this experience will benefit you. Consider how your program will be of use to you academically, professionally, personally or otherwise.

Get informed:

Seek out the many campus resources that can help you plan for study abroad in light of existing program and funding opportunities. At a minimum, talk with the Study Abroad Coordinator and your Academic Advisor to be sure your chosen program fits well within your degree plan. You may also want to reach out to faculty with whom you have a good relationship, advisors for pre-professional programs (medicine, law, etc.), Career Services advisors, staff in the Office of Financial Aid, or Global Ambassadors… the more perspectives you have about how you can be successful in study abroad, the more prepared you will be for the experience. You will also be in a better position to use your experience abroad to help you reach your academic and professional goals when you return.

Learn about your destination:

Your family may have questions about what life is like in the country where you will be living and studying, including whether it will be safe. Take some time to read and research your host city and country, especially if you do not know much about its history, geography, language or culture. If you have other specific questions, contact your Program Coordinator.

Plan for expenses:

Visit the Office of Financial Aid to discuss your particular aid package as it relates to Study Abroad. After determining what your financial aid award will cover, make a budget for yourself based on the remaining out-of-pocket expenses (estimates are included on each program). Compare this to what you would be spending for the same kinds of expenses if you were staying in San Antonio. For other out-of-pocket expenses:

  • If you plan ahead, there may be scholarships available. See the Financial Aid and Scholarships on the Study Abroad Office website.
  • Make sure you factor in passport and, if necessary, visa fees.
  • You can use student-oriented travel agencies like STA Travel or Student Universe to get good deals on international flights.
  • Some meals may be included in your program fee.
  • The cost of food and groceries could be lower or higher than in San Antonio, depending on your location.
  • Bring your student ID to get discounts when you’re abroad.
  • Some locations might require using public transportation to get to and from class.

Find support:

Once abroad, it is important to have support networks in place. Seek out friends from your program who can share this experience with you and, if possible, make local friends who can help you navigate your temporary home. Your on-site program staff are also always there to lend an ear or help you out when you need it.

Seek out opportunities on your own budget and schedule:

Think about finding friends who share your preferences for spending your time and money—if you’re not going to go out every weekend or budget a lot of money for independent travel or entertainment, be realistic and up front about this. Then come up with ideas for things you do want to do on your own schedule and budget. Hint: everyone loves the person who always finds the cool local hangouts or the best student deals for local cultural events!

* Adapted from The University of Chicago's Diversity and Identity Abroad webpage

While you are abroad, you may be identified as part of a particular race or ethnicity, or simply as an American student. The people you meet will likely have an opinion about the U.S., and may be eager to tell you what they think, positive or negative. Attitudes toward other races and ethnicities may also vary widely depending on where you are studying.

The people you encounter may make certain assumptions about you based on your physical appearance, the fact that you are speaking English, or that you are speaking the local language with a foreign accent. Some may be interested to learn more about your culture or ethnicity, but there may be others whose behavior toward you might make you uncomfortable. They may stare at you, try to touch your hair or your skin, or ask invasive questions about your cultural heritage, physical features or national origins. Children in particular may approach you as something of a novelty if you are studying abroad in a location where people have had little or no contact with people of varied races or ethnicities.

In these situations, it is best to try to assume positive intent. While the person may have said or done something that is offensive to you, they may not have intended to do so and may simply be curious to know more. Political correctness is far less common in other countries than it is here in the U.S. Nevertheless, if an encounter makes you uncomfortable, it is best to remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible. Your first priority should be your own safety.

Before you go abroad, it is best to do some research on the country and the particular city or town where you will be studying so that you can be aware of attitudes toward race and ethnicity in that area. Even though you may be part of an ethnic minority here in the U.S., in your host country, you may be part of the majority, or vice versa. It is best to consider ahead of time the following questions:

  • What are some common perceptions and stereotypes about my race or ethnicity in my host country?
  • Is there a history of racial or ethnic tension in my host country? Is the issue of immigration a source of racial or ethnic tension currently?
  • How will I react if I encounter racism or other discriminatory behavior?
  • How will my personal racial or ethnic identity shape my experience abroad?

It may help to be in touch with Global Ambassadors of your ethnic or racial background who have studied abroad in the past. You are welcome to contact the Study Abroad Office to be connected with these students.

Additional Resources:

* Adapted from The University of Chicago's Diversity and Identity Abroad webpage

Whether or not one identifies with religious or spiritual beliefs or practices, religion plays an important role in shaping cultures and societies, both in the United States and abroad. In most study abroad locations, there will typically be a dominant or mainstream religion and one or more minority religions, as well as individuals who identify as atheist/agnostic/non-practicing. Seeking to understand the interplay between culture, religion, society and individual practice or beliefs of the dominant and minority religions in your host country is a fascinating aspect of the study abroad experience, and some of the most interesting cultural sites to visit in your location may be places of worship.

However, your personal religious beliefs and practices—or lack thereof—may be perceived and understood differently in your host culture, depending on their relationship to the majority and minority faiths in the region, than they are perceived at home. There may be cultural expectations related to religious faith and practice in your location that run counter to your personal values and beliefs. Navigating the subtle terrain of faith, spirituality and practice can be difficult in a foreign environment. It can also be difficult to understand how your own religious identity fits into your host culture. Each person’s experience of this aspect of their identity abroad will differ, but you are encouraged to think about potential challenges for cultural adjustment ahead of departure.

Questions you should ask include:

  • What is the dominant religion in my host country? How is it manifested in everyday life?
  • Will I be part of the religious majority or minority abroad?
  • Are there any laws regarding religion? Is there a separation between religion and government?
  • How tolerant of other religions is the host society? Is there tolerance for atheists and agnostics?
  • Is it safe for me to wear religious symbols or clothing?
  • How should I respectfully visit religious places of worship to learn about my host culture?
  • How will it feel to me when I participate in course-related excursions to sites of worship?
  • Is it realistic for me to continue to practice my religion abroad in the same way I practice it at home or on campus? Are there any adjustments I am willing to make? Think about whether you may wish to find a place of worship, seek out a community of other practitioners, follow specific dietary guidelines, or worship according to a specific schedule. What aspects of your religious practice are you able or not able to be flexible about?

Depending on your religious identity and your location, you may want to communicate any concerns or specific information about accommodations (such as dietary restrictions) to program staff ahead of departure.

Additional Resources:

* Adapted from The University of Chicago's Diversity and Identity Abroad webpage

Because we want all students to enjoy a safe and rewarding study abroad experience, we encourage students with documented disabilities to consider the types of accommodations they will need when exploring the possibilities for study abroad. Some UIW Study Abroad programs are accessible to most students with disabilities, and we will work to ensure reasonable accommodations, when they can be arranged.

Keep in mind that attitudes and laws related to disabilities vary by culture, and these differences impact the level of accommodation available in a particular location. Students are advised to work closely with both Student Disability Services and Study Abroad as they prepare to participate in a study abroad program. Early planning and open communication are important.

Steps to take:

  • If you have not already done so, you should schedule a meeting with Student Disability Services to initiate the accommodation process.
  • You should then contact your Sister School program coordinator to discuss site-specific accommodation possibilities in light of the location and program type (after being accepted to your program).

Questions you should ask include:

  • What kind of accommodations will I need abroad?
  • What are the laws regarding accessibility in my host country?
  • Do I have the appropriate documentation for my accommodations?
  • What is the local learning environment like?
  • What housing and transportation options exist?
  • Who are the faculty and staff I will need to work with on site to make arrangements for my accommodations?
  • Is it possible for the program to accommodate my disability in the same way it would be accommodated on campus? If not, am I willing to make adjustments in order to participate in this particular program?

Additional Resources:

* Adapted from The University of Chicago's Diversity and Identity Abroad webpage

In this section, we refer primarily, but not exclusively, to cisgender-identified women and men, as transgender-identified individuals or gender-queer individuals may have additional considerations—see the LGBTQ+ Abroad section for additional resources.

Commonly held cultural attitudes regarding gender roles vary from culture to culture, and they may not always align with your own values or experience. In certain locations, women in particular may feel significantly different about what their gender identity means abroad than at home, and this may affect decisions about behavior, relationships, dress, safety, travel plans and everyday routines.

There is no “right or wrong” way to behave as a woman abroad; all choices about personal expression are valid. At the same time, it is important to recognize that in some locations and cultures, women’s actions and personal expression can send different cultural signals that may not be understood in the same way as they are at home, and they may have unintended consequences. These consequences can range from feeling uncomfortable or awkward in an unfamiliar situation to, in the worst (and rarest) cases, being put in danger of physical or emotional harm. When making decisions about behavior, actions and relationships abroad, all students are urged to put their safety first. You are also encouraged to inform yourself, before departure and during your program, of local cultural cues and gender roles in order to help make the best decisions for you.

It is just as important for men to understand the prevailing gender roles in their program location, and to be sensitive to the challenges that women in the program may face that men may not. Men are encouraged to be supportive of their friends on the program by recognizing situations in which men can, by their own behavior and actions, meaningfully reduce women’s exposure to risk and harassment.

UIW's Harassment-Free, Equal Opportunity Work and Learning Environment Policy applies while you are participating in a study abroad program. You are encouraged to familiarize yourself with this policy and to let us know if you have questions about this information in the context of study abroad. If you are the victim of sexual harassment and/or sexual assault, inform on-site staff as soon as possible. They will provide support and can connect you with the appropriate resources.

Questions you should consider include:

  • What are considered typical gender roles in my host society? What are society’s perceptions and expectations for men and women in my host country?
  • What are the gender stereotypes of Americans in my host country?
  • How do men treat women in my host country?
  • Are there differences in political and social power based on gender?
  • How do my personal values compare with my host country’s citizens’ attitudes about socially accepted gender roles? Are there aspects of my personal values that I am willing to compromise on in order to make safe and culturally informed choices?
  • How are relationships (both platonic and romantic) between men and women expressed in my host culture?
  • How are issues such as gender-based violence, sexual harassment, or sexual assault understood and treated in my host society?

Additional Resources about Gender Abroad:

  • The Department of State Students Abroad website has a section dedicated to women travelers.
  • Diversity Abroad offers tips, student profiles, and information about diversity and inclusion overseas. See especially their page on women abroad.
  • Journeywoman is a travel resource written by and for solo female travelers.
  • Transitions Abroad also has a wide selection of firsthand articles for female travelers.

* Adapted from The University of Chicago's Diversity and Identity Abroad webpage

Just as in the U.S., attitudes and understanding of LGBTQ+ individuals and issues vary by region. Most LGBTQ+ travelers encounter no problems when overseas, but it helps to prepare before you go. Students who identify as LGBTQ+ should research their destination and talk with Study Abroad staff about the cultural norms and LGBTQ+ rights and issues in their location.

In some countries, LGBTQ+ individuals are protected and have equal rights in their society. There are other places where identifying as LGBTQ+ openly is punishable by law, or there may be no laws to protect an individual from hate crimes. The resources and tips below are intended to help navigate spaces that are outside of campus and the U.S. Remember, U.S. citizens are subject to the laws of their host country. Therefore, it is extremely important to know the legal regulations and conditions of your location before you go.

You may find that you can be more open about your identity than in the U.S., or that you would need to hide your sexual or gender identity completely to avoid cultural ostracism or arrest. Understanding this will help you decide where you would or would not want to study.

Questions you should ask include:

  • Are there laws regarding homosexuality/gender identity in my host country? How can I navigate these laws? Should I consider this country for study abroad?
  • Is it safe for me to be out when I’m abroad?
  • What are the cultural norms for dating and friendship?
  • What kinds of LGBTQ resources are there in my host country?
  • Is there a united, visible LGBTQ community in my host country/city? What are some ways members of these diverse communities represent themselves within the wider society?

Always put your safety first and find a support network while you are abroad. If you experience difficulties, you should contact your program staff immediately.

Additional LGBTQ Resources:

* Adapted from The University of Chicago's Diversity and Identity Abroad webpage

Undocumented students and students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status are advised that on Tuesday, September 5, 2017, President Trump announced an end to the DACA program. This policy change may lead to immediate changes in laws and immigration policies related to undocumented statuses, advance parole, and the ability to travel abroad.

Students who are not abroad, but are considering ANY travel abroad—study abroad or otherwise—should consult with the UIW's International Student and Scholars Services (ISSS) office before making plans. Enhanced patrolling exists near domestic borders, so undocumented students or students with DACA status may be at heightened risk for investigation even for travel within the U.S.

Additional UIW Resources for DACA students:

Veterans and active duty military members will need to work closely with the Veteran Affairs office, officers (if applicable), and Study Abroad office to ensure a smooth study abroad experience. 

ROTC students will want to speak with their reporting officer about expectations for their study abroad experience. 

Throughout the experience, be organized, stay on top of your paperwork, and stay cognizant of how your military association may impact your interactions with locals abroad.

Financial Considerations

If you want to use VA benefits, ROTC scholarships, or other forms of aid related to military service, you must plan ahead. Be financially prepared. You may not be eligible for your Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), or it may be delayed. Have a backup plan in case that funding does not come through.

Security Clearance

Worried about a current or future security clearance? Create a spreadsheet to store sustained foreign contact information for serious connections you make abroad. Keep track of your addresses abroad and details for two references per address. You can check out the  SF-86 form for more information.

Questions you should ask include:

  • Will I need to list my military service on a visa application, and how will I do this?
  • Do I need to maintain a fitness regimen, and what facilities will be available?
  • How will I discuss my military experience with locals, and how might it be perceived?
  • Has the U.S. military been involved in prior action with or in my host country? What is the perception of those military actions among locals?
  • How will any prior international experiences shape my perceptions during my program?
  • How will the academic and cultural context abroad shape this international experience?

Project GO:

Project Global Officer (Project GO) is a collaborative initiative that promotes critical language education, study abroad, and intercultural dialogue opportunities through language study scholarships for ROTC students. The program was designed to improve the language skills, regional expertise, and intercultural communication skills of future military officers through domestic language study and domestic and overseas language and cultural immersion.

Project GO is not a UIW affiliated program but can be taken for credit. You may utilize the Study Abroad Office for advising and questions. Find a Project Go Program.

Additional Resources for Veteran students:

*Some information provided by Kentucky University's International Affairs office.