Diversity and Identity

Identity is a complex, multi-faceted, evolving way of thinking about who we are and how we fit into our society. Learning abroad will prompt you to reconsider your own sense of identity — racial, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic, gender, nationality, and more — as you come to understand and adapt to another culture. You will see yourself in new ways within that context, which may in turn have a profound effect on how you view yourself as a citizen of the world.

What I Learned as a Black Woman in Europe

by Nana Cann ’16

Photo of Nana Cann ’16
“Studying abroad and being stripped of my identity forced me out of my comfort zone. For the first time in my life, I was able to explore the different parts of what make me, me. Being abroad taught me that my identity is more than what I mark on a box in the census, it’s more than how others see me. My identity is less of a two-dimensional box, and more of a mansion, with different themed rooms each representing my various interests. Although I may still be subject to negative stereotypes about my identity I was able to confirm that I am so much more than what others perceive based on their cultural perspectives. So, who am I if I’m not a Black woman? I’ll let you know when I find out.”

MHC students of all backgrounds study, intern, and conduct research abroad.  Thinking about what components of your identity are important to you, and knowing something about your proposed destination, will help you decide where to travel, and anticipate what to expect in your new country.

Diversity Resources for Learning Abroad includes websites, blogs, articles, and student stories that illuminate the experiences of students and other travelers from a wide range of backgrounds, and can help you plan for a rewarding and successful learning abroad experience.  Here we suggest some questions to consider:

  • What is the demographic make-up of your host country (racial, ethnic, religious)?  Will it be diverse or largely homogenous?  Open and accepting of difference?  
  • In what ways will you be part of a majority or minority in your host country?  Will that be different from your situation at MHC or your home?  How might that affect how people perceive and respond to you?  
  • What stereotypes might you encounter (about race, nationality, religion, ethnicity, gender, abilities)?  Will these ideas be similar to or different from what you experience here?  How might you prepare to deal with questions about your identity?   
  • If you are LGBTQ, how welcoming can you expect your host community to be?  Is it safe to be out in public, or with friends, or is it better to be discreet?
  • What issues or stereotypes might you encounter as a woman traveling abroad?  
  • If you receive accommodations at Mount Holyoke, will similar accommodations be available abroad?  Are people’s attitudes toward individuals with disabilities likely to be different from those you typically encounter at MHC or at home?  

As you explore the intersection of your own values and attitudes with those you encounter in a new and different cultural context, you should expect some feelings of discomfort—that is natural, and will lead to important personal growth.  However, if you feel unsafe or uncomfortable as a result of attitudes or actions that you think are directed at you because of your gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc., it is critical that you speak to your program sponsor or host, or that you contact the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives (global@mtholyoke.edu, telephone 413-538-2072), or Mount Holyoke’s Title IX Coordinator.  Your program or host can help you understand what is happening (whether you are being targeted, or you are observing typical behavior for that culture), to access local sources of support, and to take any action that may be necessary to protect your safety.