Identity and Diversity Abroad

Coming from diverse backgrounds is an incredible asset for study abroad experiences. Whether it is your race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, cultural background, family structure, age, sexuality, gender, etc., being who you are and having your unique identity creates a diverse, multifaceted learning environment.

Studying abroad is an opportunity to leave the familiarity of our New York campus and learn from a completely different part of the world. This is a journey that leads to new academic pursuits, develops a sense of identity, and creates long-lasting bonds and friendships.

While studying abroad, different factors can affect students of color, queer students, and students of other marginalized identities, so this page is meant to be a resource for the experience of diversity and identity while studying abroad. Some questions that you can start to ask yourself before you study abroad while honoring and cherishing your various identities:

  • What are the ways in which your identity interacts with the world around you?

  • What perspectives can you bring to a study abroad classroom and environment that other students could benefit from?

  • What are the ways in which your identity might operate differently in an alternative global context?

If you have specific questions about diversity and identity abroad, schedule an appointment with a UGE Adviser or a Global Learning Assistant (GLA), who are student leaders on campus supporting the conversation around global engagement.

Also, this is a living list, so we encourage you to contact us at if you would like to add your own experiences, input, or other resources to this page.

General Considerations

Cultural Considerations About Identity

When entering a new culture, there are a number of factors that can affect the way your identity is perceived or treated. First and foremost, as students from the U.S., there is the possibility of being seen or treated differently by local communities during your study abroad. This could be due to language barriers or cultural gaps between the country residents and study abroad students. You could experience a flattening of your identity or stereotyping due to the racial and cultural landscapes of your host country.

In addition, race and ethnicity operate differently around the world, so students of color should research the racial politics of the places they study abroad. Each country has unique histories, cultural values, and social norms that can shape attitudes regarding gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc.

We recommend research in advance for students of all marginalized backgrounds to consider how your identity will interact with this new context and place where you study abroad. We also recommend you reach out to students who align with your identity and who have studied abroad in the past. The Global Learning Assistants (GLAs) are a great starting point since they are student representatives of diverse backgrounds who have studied abroad at Columbia and can help answer any questions!

Legal Rights

As a Columbia student participating in a global experience, you will be subject to any law of the country you are studying in. Therefore, it is essential that you research laws about anti-discrimination, hate crimes, sexual consent and behavior, etc. This will ensure you understand your rights and can abide by the laws in place during your time abroad.

Support Networks and Safety

A key facet of studying abroad is having a sound support system. These support networks abroad may be difficult to form, especially as a student of color or of a marginalized experience. While you are abroad, building trust with at least a few people – whether it is a professor, a fellow student, or program staff – is important so that when you are in need, you do not hesitate to reach out. Your study abroad experience may move fast, so if you feel like you do not feel supported during your program, feel free to reach out to your UGE Adviser or a Global Learning Assistant (GLA).

A part of the study abroad experience will be to advocate for your needs and forms of support from the people around you. Additionally, you may find affinity groups, mental health spaces, or advocacy groups that align with your identity in which you can get involved. Additionally, making friends with locals in a city can bring familiarity and comfort to an unknown place, so we encourage you to immerse yourself in the culture where you are studying abroad.

Your safety is of utmost priority, so make sure you are versed in the ways you can get help if you feel your safety is at risk: knowing the numbers for ambulance and medical services, police stations, and general helplines is important. Finally, knowing where the administrative offices or program headquarters are, alongside contact information, is important in a plan of action if you require assistance or are in need.

Identity and Housing Abroad

There may be a multitude of housing arrangements available while abroad, but it will vary by program. No matter the configuration of the room or where you are staying, you should always feel comfortable and safe. To ensure a positive experience, fill out the housing questionnaires honestly and in detail so you can be most effectively placed with a roommate.

You can also reach out to the program staff for homestays to ensure the family is accepting and loving towards your identity. If you feel your identity is not being affirmed in the space where you sleep and find rest, speak with the program-specific staff or contact your UGE Adviser. We’d be happy to advocate for you and get you the support you need.


Relationships while abroad require a cultural understanding of verbal and bodily cues and the differing forms of platonic and romantic love. While something at home could seem romantic, it might be seen as purely platonic in the place you are studying abroad. Make sure there is clear communication with partners and ask about certain cultural customs if questions arise. Consent and healthy relationships are of utmost importance for the safety and well-being of all students while abroad.

Intersectional Identities

As the founder of the term intersectionality, Kimberlé Crenshaw states:

“Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there. Many times that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things.”

We encourage students to consider the intersectionalities within their own identities and the students around them. These intersectional frameworks can also shift as you move abroad, whereas, in the U.S., you could be a racial minority; for example, you could study abroad in a country where you are a racial majority. Consider the ways in which power operates and interlocks in the places you study abroad. Think about the ways in which your identity is problematized in a new space and find ways of expressing your discontent or comfort in your identity as you exist in a different culture and space.


A vast range of resources is available outside the ones your program may provide. From student blogs to study abroad guides to other collegiate diversity and identity websites to op-eds, we recommend you do some research on your specific identities and how to navigate your study abroad experience accordingly.

Here are some resources that the Center for Undergraduate Global Engagement has consolidated from student recommendations and peer institutions.




Identity-Based Resources

Below, we have compiled lists of articles, handbooks, and resources relating to students of a particular identity group studying abroad. This list is a springboard to begin your own research and can be a starting point to help you prepare for specific dynamics that you may experience while abroad. Do not hesitate to ask for help from UGE Advisers, peers like Global Learning Assistants (GLAs), or program-specific staff; we’re all here to support you before, during, and after your experience abroad.

This is a living list, so we encourage you to contact us at if you would like to add your own experiences, input, or other resources to this page.

Students of Color

New York City is one of the most diverse cities in the world; however, it is likely that while traveling abroad, your racial identity may be confronted in new and unfamiliar ways. It is important to research your destination to be better equipped for whatever situations may arise.

Here is a list of databases and articles for Students of Color Abroad:







Queer and LGBTQ+ Students

Queer and LGBTQ+ identities are historically and culturally specific. Even the terminologies and social significances students in the U.S. are most familiar with are products of a specific time and place. While traveling abroad, you do not need to alter your behavior / appearance, but you should be conscious of how your behavior / appearance translates into your host culture. Understanding the legal and cultural environment may help you make informed choices to ensure your comfort and safety.

Here is a list of databases and articles for Queer and LGBTQ+ Students Abroad:





First Generation, Low-Income Students

If you are the first in your family to go to college, studying abroad might not have been an expected part of the college plan. There is a chance that family members might not understand your motivations to travel abroad, and some may initially perceive this opportunity as an expensive, long-term vacation (which it is not!). However, first-generation, low-income students are often in a strong position to succeed while abroad because of their experience with forging their own path to college and acclimating to unfamiliar experiences or environments.

Here is a list of databases and articles for First Generation, Low-Income Students Abroad:




Women and Gender Identities

Being a student in the U.S. has exposed you to societal gender roles that may be different from what you are used to as an international student or where you plan to study abroad. It will be important to research your host country’s cultural behaviors towards gender, laws, and customs, as well as expected social behavior, to put your safety first.

Here is a list of databases and articles for Women and Gender Identities Abroad. This includes all women, femmes, and feminine-presenting people, including transfemme non-binary students, transgender students, female students, gender nonconforming students, gender fluid students, etc..:


Religion and Spirituality

Cultural behaviors towards religion, including the dominant religion (if there is one), and the degree of religious tolerance in the country can often significantly affect local religious practices and day-to-day life. It will be important to research where you can worship and observe your religious tradition by talking to locals or program staff.

Here is a list of databases and articles for Religion and Spirituality Abroad:

International Students

As an international student in the U.S., you are already participating in a global experience. However, it doesn’t mean that your experiences are limited. You can continue to facilitate cross-cultural growth while exploring options for your study abroad beyond the U.S.

Here is a list of databases and articles for International Students Abroad:

Ability and Accessibility Abroad

To determine possible accommodations abroad, we encourage you to work closely with your UGE Adviser, Disability Services | Columbia Health, or program-specific staff. Advanced planning and receiving guidance from the appropriate offices can help us explore your options while abroad. Please note that your host country may have differing laws regarding access and accommodations, and making accommodations is the student's personal responsibility.

Here is a list of databases and articles for Ability and Accessibility Abroad: