Your Identity

Your Identity

Explore Identity Abroad 

Student in Costa Rica, Spring 2022

We encourage all students to study abroad! As you consider or plan to study abroad, take a moment to think about the components of your identity and those that are of particular importance to you.  

  • Do aspects of your identity (such as your heritage) shape your goals for your time abroad?  
  • Are there special concerns to address or preparations to make?  
  • How might certain aspects of your identity be received by your host community?  
  • What laws and social norms do you need to be aware of as you think about or plan to study abroad?  

Keep these questions in mind as you conduct your program search. Additional considerations, along with resources, are provided below to help you think about your identity in the context of going abroad. 


Access Abroad and Students with Disabilities

UVA is dedicated to creating an environment of access and inclusion both on Grounds and abroad. To make this the best experience for you, it is vital that you inform the International Studies Office (ISO) and the Student Disability Access Center (SDAC) of your disability, including serious medical conditions, and your desire to study abroad as early as possible. Planning, preparation and good communication are key factors to a successful experience abroad.

Changes in food, lifestyle, and climate, in addition to increased physical demands, can create stress in the body which can worsen some conditions. It is important to be aware that some programs are more physically demanding than others, and some universities do not provide the same learning accommodations as are standard in the U.S.  Many countries do not have the same accessibility laws as the U.S. With these important factors in mind, it is imperative to inform both SDAC and ISO of accommodation requests as early as possible because these may take a considerable amount of time to arrange. It is recommended that you work with SDAC and ISO to start planning your experience at least six months in advance. 

To prepare for the study abroad process, here is a quick checklist on how to get started:

  • View the Education Abroad Workshop.
  • Review the Post Workshop Checklist.
  • Research programs and destinations, considering how each may impact your accommodations.
  • Schedule an appointment with the appropriate Education Abroad Advisor for each program of interest. 
  • Meet with SDAC staff to discuss programs of interest, consider reasonable accommodations, and request that SDAC share the accommodation request(s) with the ISO. It may be necessary to also discuss your study abroad plans with your treating provider. 
  • Decide on a program and complete the application. If you are applying to a non-UVA program, make sure you disclose your disability or medical condition to the program provider as they will likely be involved in working on your request for accommodations. 
  • Attend pre-departure orientation (if applicable for your program), confirm your accommodations with your program, discuss your plans with your family and your doctor (when applicable). 


Additional Tips for a Successful Experience: 

  • Remain flexible when working with an advisor to choose the best program for you. 
  • Be mindful that other countries may accommodate disabilities in different ways. Take time to research the various types of accommodations for your disability in the host country. 
  • Be open to various ways your disability may be accommodated. 
  • Take time to learn as much as you can about your host culture and what their perspectives are regarding disabilities. Look up important vocabulary words relating to your disability in the host language.  


Questions to consider:  

  • How does my host country view disability? What rights exist and what resources might be available to me in my host country? 
  • What accommodations are available for my program or at my host university? If I am studying abroad at a host university, what kind of academic support is available to me? 
  • Do I need to bring medication with me, and if so, is this medication legal in my host country?  


For more information about access abroad and scholarship opportunities, see: 


First Generation Students Abroad

As a first generation college student, you already have what it takes to embark on a study abroad experience after navigating the process of applying for college, and forging your own path to study here at UVA. You may face unique challenges when explaining to your family your reasons for studying abroad and the value of the experience. You may also have financial needs, but this does not have to be a barrier to a successful abroad experience. 

Resources to help you get started: 


Questions to consider:  

  • How can I include my family and friends in the decision-making process and help them understand the benefits of studying abroad? 
  • What resources are available to me if no one in my family is familiar with traveling abroad?  
  • What kind of experience would I like to have? What kind of location would I like to be in, what type of housing arrangement would I prefer, and how do I want to spend my free time? 
Gender Abroad

Gender has a cultural context, so whether you have traveled abroad before or if this is your first time, it’s something to consider as you plan for your study abroad program. Gender roles, expectations of gender, and gender expression will vary not only from country to country but also within a country. Relationships between men and women, expectations about gender expression (dress, language, topics of conversation, etc.), spaces people occupy, assumptions about physical touch, and body language may all be different in your host country. Consider stereotypes your host country may have about you and make conscious decisions about how you engage with your host country’s culture. If you plan to attend a local university in your host country, learn about any dress codes – some of which may be gender-specific.  

Being culturally sensitive is one step towards understanding and integrating into your host culture. Be observant of gender-specific roles, customs, and norms. You do not need to change your identity to fit into the culture. However, it is important that you inform yourself about gender expectations and roles so that you can make considerate, informed, and safe decisions while abroad. 

Some students may have concerns about safety while studying abroad given their gender identity and expression. Learn about gender-based rights and protection of gender expression in your host country before you go. Getting to know people in the host culture can help explain what you observe and how to navigate the norms and expectations. Remember that you are your own best resource – stay alert, be aware, and trust your intuition. 

Resources to help you get started: 


Questions to consider:  

  • What are some of the gender norms in my host country? How are these similar or dissimilar to those in the U.S.? 
  • Who occupies positions of power between men, women, and non-binary individuals in your host country? How do these positions of power change from context to context?  
  • What gender-based rights exist in my host country? Have any gender-based laws changed or been politicized in recent years?  
Heritage Seekers Abroad

Going abroad gives students a wonderful opportunity to explore their own cultural heritage. Whether you are going to a region that was home to your distant relatives, or revisiting the place of your own birth, you inevitably will be confronted with a range of emotions and experiences. You may expect to feel at home, but find yourself identifying with your American culture, or you may find that you identify deeply with your ancestral culture. You may find that people in your host country identify you as an American and don’t recognize your heritage identity within that culture. You will want to consider in advance that you may have ideas about your destination that are outdated or specific to your family’s history. As in all aspects of preparing to study abroad, having an open mind will be a great asset. 

Resources to help you get started: 


Questions to consider:  

  • How do I learn more about my country of origin? What assumptions am I bringing with me about the culture in my host country?  
  • Do I speak the language of my home/host country? How will that impact my experience there?  
  • How should I react if other students or faculty on the program look to me to be an ‘expert’ even if I’m not?  
  • How will I react if someone generalizes or incorrectly identifies my ethnicity?  
LGBTQ+ Students Abroad

Studying abroad can be a wonderful way for LGBTQ+ students to explore their identities in another culture. For many LGBTQ+ students, studying abroad can be a time to celebrate their identities and experience what it is like to live in a country that is accepting and welcoming of LGBTQ+ people. Many LGBTQ+ students have profoundly positive and affirming experiences while studying abroad. Consider what your personal hopes and goals are for study abroad as you think about what location and program will be the best option for you.  

LGBTQ+ students may have additional concerns to think about when planning to study abroad. Students should research country-wide and local laws regarding legality of and discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity. Learn about social norms of friendship, displays of affection, and dating ahead of time – these will vary from country to country and even within different parts of the same country. If you plan to study abroad in a country in which there are no or limited protections for LGBTQ+ people or where same-sex relationships or activity are illegal, consider your online presence, including social media and dating apps. 

You may want to think about what housing situation will best meet your needs and will allow you to fully engage in your study abroad experience. If you plan to secure your own housing, research housing discrimination laws. If you are interested in or required to have a home-stay as part of your program, consider speaking with your program staff about your needs and your identity ahead of time so they can find a good match for you.  

Resources to help you get started: 


Questions to consider: 

  • How important is it for me to connect with a local LGBTQ+ community while abroad? 
  • What are my safety needs and how well can I expect them to be met during my time abroad? 
  • How are individuals in the LGBTQ+ community perceived in my host country?  
  • What are my housing needs and who should I speak with about them? (Be sure to identify housing needs in advance!) 
  • What laws, social norms, and current events do I need to be aware of as I prepare to study abroad in my host country?  
Race and Ethnicity Abroad

All students have a different experience of study abroad – even those on the same program. As you begin to prepare for your abroad experience, it is important to consider how your race or ethnicity will be viewed abroad. Some students who are in the minority in the US may study in a location where their race is the majority, and others may find that they are in the minority for the first time. You may find yourself excited to be outside of the US and experiencing a new culture outside of the context of the current events in the US.  

However, you may also find yourself a subject of unwanted attention, be asked uncomfortable questions, and face new assumptions from people in your host location, especially from children. Consider reading blogs and doing some research to learn about how race and ethnicity are addressed in your host country as you prepare to study abroad. As part of your preparation to study abroad, think about the culture you will be entering and how people’s perception of you may be quite different from your self-perception. 

Resources to help you get started: 

  • Diversity Abroad: Minority & Students of Color Abroad – Includes information and questions to consider when planning to study abroad 
  • The All Abroad website – Offers mentors who are students, parents, and advisers and are comfortable with addressing diversity concerns in the context of learning abroad. Also available are specific resources for African-American, Asian Pacific Islander American, Hispanic-American and Native-American students. See the Advice and Resources tabs.  
  • Unpacked – This guide offers narratives from fellow study abroad students who have studied abroad, discussing how being a member of an underserved racial or ethnic group impacted their study abroad experience. 
  • Northwestern – Includes resources for specific racial and ethnic groups  
  • IES Abroad: Race, Ethnicity & Nationality - Includes blog posts written by students, race and ethnicity resources, international student resources, and anti-racism and allyship resources.  

Student Voices


Questions to consider:  

  • Is there a history of racial or ethnic tension in my host country?  
  • How will I react if I encounter racism or discrimination in my host country (or while traveling) abroad?  
  • Will I be comfortable studying somewhere where I am the only person that looks like me? What support systems can I use while abroad?  
Religion & Spirituality Abroad

Whether you consider yourself religious, spiritual or neither, through study abroad you will be exposed to local religious and spiritual practices and norms. You may find yourself confronted with a religious or spiritual belief that is different from your own or a unique take on the religion you practice.  Before you embark on your study abroad program you are encouraged to research the role religion and spirituality plays in your host culture, and how members of the local community may perceive your religion. If you would like to connect in with a local religious or spiritual community while abroad, do some research ahead of time to learn what communities will be available to you. Communicate any needs to your program staff.  

Resources to help you get started: 


Questions to consider:  

  • What is the dominant religion in my host country, and will I be a part of the religious majority or minority?  
  • Are there any laws regarding religion? How might these impact how I typically practice my religion at home? 
  • Is it safe for me to publicly display my religious affiliation? (I.e. public spiritual practices, symbols, jewelry, clothing)