For many ethnic minority students, learning about their ancestry is very important. Going abroad presents these students with an opportunity to connect and learn about their ancestral history and culture firsthand. These students are called heritage seekers because of their interest in studying abroad “not because it is unfamiliar and new, but rather because it is somewhat familiar”.

For these students, choosing to study in their homeland can be an overwhelming and emotional experience. Some heritage students have returned from such programs feeling more connected to their ancestral land, while others return feeling more associated and appreciative of their American roots. In any case, many heritage students find a sense of closure and identity.

Heritage students preparing to go abroad should be aware that many of the ideas and presumptions that they have about their host country will be challenged. One of the best things heritage learners can do is forget everything that they know about their home country and enter the country with an open mind. Heritage students should be prepared for the possibility of being accepted by the local community in the home country because of shared ethnic ties, but also being viewed as an outsider because of cultural differences and national identity. In either scenario, heritage learners will learn more about themselves and how they identify with others.

Must Ask Questions for Heritage Students
  • How will I be perceived in my home country? 
  • Will I be accepted in my home country? 
  • How should I react if I find something to be offensive? 
  • Am I used to being part of the minority at home? How will it be to be a part of the majority abroad? 
  • Will there be other heritage students in my program?

Tips for Heritage Students
  • Remember although there is an ethnic affiliation between you and the people in your home country, there are many cultural differences and you might not be accepted as one of their own. 
  • Dressing and acting like the locals can make you stand out less. 
  • Research the customs and culture of your home country. There might be great differences between what you think you know about the home country based on how you were raised and what it is actually like. 
  • Be aware that people may generalize or incorrectly identify your ethnicity. 
  • Learn more about other heritage students’ experiences abroad. For example, you can talk to other heritage students who have studied abroad or find information online. 

 To learn more about students’ experiences abroad, visit our Alumni Stories section.


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