Study abroad was initially incorporated into U.S. higher education as an opportunity for students to learn about unfamiliar societies and strengthen one’s foreign language skills. Heritage seekers, however, are motivated to study abroad to learn more about what may already be familiar. In other words, they hope to explore their family background, whether from a national, religious, cultural, or ethnic perspective (Szekely, 1998).
The opportunity to explore a country from which your ancestors originated can be exciting and profound. While abroad, you may forge relationships with the local population because of overtly similar ethnic characteristics. You also may find that your nationality and your cultural background affect your interactions with the local population in ways that may not be what you had hoped or imagined. You will likely be welcomed, but as a visiting student, it is important to remember that you will be viewed as an outsider, not as a local citizen. On the flip side, local citizens might also assume that, as a heritage student, you have greater cultural familiarity and/or language skills than you possess. While you are learning more about your ancestral background, you will also be reflecting on your life at home. We encourage you to be open to all kinds of interactions as they will deepen your understanding of identity and your international experience.
THINGS TO CONSIDER (Adapted from University of Wisconsin Madison)
- How will I be perceived in the host country?
- I will be studying in the country my ancestors are from, but I have never been there before, and I do not speak the language.
- How should I react if confronted with something offensive?
- What will it feel like to be a part of the majority abroad?