Identity Abroad

Studying abroad can open students up to a world of opportunities, and can have a lasting, positive impact on students. In today’s global society, it is increasingly important for all students to gain exposure to and understanding of other cultures and global issues. No matter your background, studying in another country can change your perspective on both the United States and the rest of the world. Additionally, studying abroad can help strengthen your academic skills and make you more marketable for your career and graduate school. 

Students abroad face a new cultural context that includes different historical and cultural understandings of diversity and inclusion around issues like race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability. Customs, beliefs, laws, facilities, and social practices are likely different than in the United States. Students are often concerned about how they will be perceived in their host country. Sometimes students have the experience of being in the minority for the first time. Others are concerned that their race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability will impact their experience.

The Case Western Reserve University Office of Education Abroad seeks to engage and support all students throughout their study abroad experience. As you research your study abroad options, consider how aspects of your identity might shape your experience.

We encourage you to explore the resources under each category below, meet with a study abroad advisor, and reach out to students who have already studied abroad to discuss their experiences.

We recognize that not all social identity resources fall into these categories. IES Abroad's Social Identity Resources website includes wonderful advice, tips, and expert information from these categories and others such as dietary concerns, mental health, religion and spirituality, et. al. 

Disability and Accessibility

In accordance with federal law, if you have a documented disability, you may be eligible to request accommodations from Disability Resources. In order to be considered for accommodations, you must first register with the Disability Resources office. Please contact their office to register at 216.368.5230 or get more information on how to begin the process. Please keep in mind that accommodations are not retroactive.

Students with disabilities can succeed in study abroad programs with ongoing support from Case Western Reserve University and international partners. The key to studying abroad is planning ahead, and understanding that attitudes and accommodations abroad vary by country. Understanding your accommodation needs helps in selecting the best study abroad option for you. If you are planning to study abroad, you are not required to inform the Office of Education Abroad (OEA) of a disability. However, many accommodations require early planning, and requests for accommodations that are made as early as possible (preferably right after acceptance to a program) will enable us to better assist you. If you are a CWRU student who is already registered with Disability Resources, your accommodation information is not automatically transferred from the Disability Resources office to the OEA. Please contact Disability Resources, which in turn will coordinate with the OEA regarding accommodations. While many study abroad programs do their best to accommodate students, the extent to which accommodations can be provided depends on the nature of the accommodation, the general situation in that particular country regarding accessibility and available services, and the creativity and flexibility of the student and staff/faculty in planning for the experience abroad.

Think about:

  • How will my disability affect which study abroad programs I consider?

  • Will I disclose my condition to the Office of Education Abroad or the host program?

  • How will I plan ahead to manage my condition before going abroad?

  • What barriers might I encounter (both in planning to go abroad, and while abroad), and how will I overcome them?

  • How will the resources I have abroad differ from what I am accustomed to at CWRU?

  • How may my disability be perceived in my host country?

  • What activities or excursions abroad (if any) will I not be able to participate in due to my disability? 

  • If I need access to medication, supplies, or medical services, will I have access abroad? Will I need documentation to travel with medication (i.e. gender-affirming hormones)?

Before you go:

  • Talk to your study abroad advisor about your particular needs, study abroad options, and possible site-specific information pertaining to your disability

  • Speak with other students with disabilities to learn out their experiences abroad

  • Contact your Disability Resources advisor to request that your letter of accommodation be shared with your study abroad advisor, who will pass along this information to your study abroad institution.

Ability resources:

First Generation

Being the first in your family to attend a college or university, you may feel that you’ve already taken a big enough step toward success. Studying abroad does not take away from your ability to succeed in college, rather it can enhance it. Participating in a study abroad program can help you develop new perspectives on academic subjects and real-world issues, achieve proficiency in a foreign language, and enhance cross-cultural understanding. Studying abroad can also teach you more than just another country or another culture; the experience of studying abroad is often cited as a major factor in a student’s personal development, in truly coming to know oneself. Students who study abroad tend to graduate at higher rates, have higher overall GPAs and be better problem solvers - all qualities that are sought-after by employers after graduation.

Think about:

  • How long do I want to be abroad? There are programs available for different lengths of time - semester, academic year, and summer. Short-term faculty-led options are also available.

  • How will my study abroad experience fit into my academic plan at CWRU? Some programs will help fulfill major and minor requirements so you can still graduate at your scheduled time.

  • How will I make studying abroad affordable? See our Financial Information and Scholarships page. Many study abroad scholarships are available specifically to first-generation students

Before you go:

  • Discuss plans with your family. Study abroad may be a novel idea to your family, so make sure you can articulate the academic, personal, and professional benefits of the experience. Talk to your family early on and let them know that they can speak with an OEA advisor if they have any questions.

  • Speak with other first-generation students to learn about their experiences abroad.

First-Generation Resources:


You may already identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex, or you may still be exploring your identity. LGBTQ+ students face some special considerations when choosing a study abroad program. While researching study abroad opportunities and preparing for departure, it is important to reflect on the culturally based ideas and definitions of gender and sexual identity. You will find that the social climate, laws, and personal interactions of other cultures will often differ from the U.S. Some countries and cultures are open to LGBTQ+ individuals, while others are less accepting. If you go to a country that is more accepting than the U.S., you may feel comfortable being more free and open. On the other end of the spectrum, you could be in a host country where the religious beliefs and customs make you feel that you have to be more “closeted” in your identity than you are in the U.S. Consider these possibilities and ask yourself: How open do I want to be able to be?

Think about:

  • Will local cultural values and host-country laws affect my decision in where to study abroad?

  • Does my LGBTQ+ identity conflict with my host country’s religious or cultural values and traditions?

  • Do you want/need to be part of a supportive LGBTQ+ community? Are there LBGTQ+ organizations on your host campus or in the community?

  • What, if any, safety considerations should I be aware of? Is it safe for me to be out about my sexual and/or gender identity in my host community?

  • What is the social perception of members of the LGBTQ+ community in my host culture?

  • What role do trans* individuals play in my host culture?

  • Does my study abroad program offer LGBTQ+ friendly housing?

Before you go:

  • Research what kind of rights LGBTQ+ individuals have in your host country. Are there any specific laws regarding same-sex relationships or associations with LGBTQ+ individuals?

  • Connect with previous LGBTQ+ students who have studied abroad to talk about how they navigated/experiences sexual and gender identity in their host country

  • Utilize the resources/speak with staff at the LGBT Center on campus before departure to set yourself with as much support as needed.

LGBTQ+ Resources:

Race, Ethnicity & Nationality

How racial and ethnic identities are defined and understood vary by culture. In some locations, you may be identified with existing cultural or ethnic groups within the host country, or you may be considered as a U.S. American first, and your ethnic or racial identity will be secondary. While you’re abroad, you may be part of a racial or ethnic minority or majority for the first time in your life. Or you may have to think about your identity in a new way in light of the local norms and expectations, in ways that other students with different backgrounds may not. Some students may feel exhilarated by being outside the American context of race relations; others find different degrees of curiosity about their ethnic background and may experience familiar or new types of separation or exclusion. There is no reason that your racial or ethnic background should prevent you from studying abroad; however, it is important to be aware of the environment you will be entering.  You may find that confronting and learning to interpret the host country’s racial and ethnic perspectives in a new context can help you grow and feel ultimately more secure with your identity. We encourage you to have early discussions about race and ethnicity, which can help you develop a realistic understanding of how your identity might play into the experience in different locations. 

Think about:

  • How is my race/ethnicity/nationality perceived in my host country? Are there stereotypes associated with my race/ethnicity?

  • Does my host country have a history of ethnic tension, prejudice/discrimination or acceptance/inclusion with my identity?

  • Are there laws in the host country governing race relations? Ethnic relations? What protections are offered to ethnic or racial minorities?

  • Am I going to be treated the same way in my host country as I am in the U.S.? Will I be in the minority/majority for the first time?

  • How will my personal identity shape my experience abroad?

  • How will I react if I encounter racism or other discriminatory behavior?

  • How will I feel if I am the only minority in a cohort of other Americans in my program?

Before you go:

  • Make use of online resources that offer advice, personal narratives and other information.

  • Speak with other students from diverse backgrounds who have studied abroad.

  • We encourage students to reach out to the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) for additional support.

Race and Ethnicity Resources: