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We strongly believe that every student can have a meaningful and successful experience abroad.  However, traveling overseas can present unique challenges to different groups of students.  CIP staff work closely with the Office of Student Disability Services and other resources on campus to accommodate a variety of needs, and we are prepared to assist each student on an individual basis.  Please review the following sections for more detailed information, and if you have a specific concern or request, make sure to contact us as early as possible in the process to set up appointment with one of our knowledgeable staff members. DISCLAIMER: The resources listed below are not affiliated with Saint Joseph's University, nor should they be the "be all, end all" of your research and preparation.  

  • Diversity Abroad: The leading, global education organization which targets non-traditional students for international education opportunities, creating a portal which provides information, tips, and benefits for students looking to study internationally.  
  • This site offers resources addressing funding opportunities, study abroad and career development, reasons to study abroad, and information on diversity and discrimination abroad.
  • IES Abroad Diversity: Diversity resources specifically for IES programs including past student perspectives, scholarship opportunities, a student guide, country-specific resources and contact information for the IES Diversity Coordinator.

You may not be considered an ethnic or religious majority in the United States, but by going abroad you may become a minority. In some cases, your outward appearance can also make you stand out, especially if the country’s population is very homogeneous. Sometimes the locals’ curiosity, interest, ignorance or misunderstanding of you can be unpleasant. They may ask what you consider insensitive questions about your cultural heritage, physical features, or national origins. There may even be people who are eager to touch your hair or skin. (This is especially true with children.)

If you find yourself in such a situation, try to distinguish between a person who is genuinely curious about you and your culture and someone who has bad intentions. If a comment or action offends you, try to be tactful with your response, or if you are very upset, leave the situation.  Always remember to put your safety first.

Must ask questions:
  • How is my ethnic group perceived in my host country?  What kinds of stereotypes are there?
  • Am I used to being a part of the majority at home but will be a minority abroad?  Or vice versa?
  • Will there be other minority students on my program?
  • How should/will I react if something offends me?
  • Who will I contact if I do face racial or discriminatory incidents?
  • Read about your host country’s racial and ethnic history, as well as their current attitudes towards people of different ethnicities.  You might also want to research the topic of immigration, depending on your destination.
  • Be aware that people may generalize or incorrectly identify your ethnicity.
  • Talk to other students who have studied abroad, particularly if you are a student of color.  Learn more about their experiences and ask for their advice.
  • The more you integrate with the culture of your host country, the less you’ll stand out.  But your skin, hair, or other features may still attract attention.
  • Build a support network among other study abroad students so that if you do face racial or discriminatory incidents, you’ll have support to deal with it.
  • Be prepared if an incident does arise, but don’t go abroad expecting racism or discrimination.

Attitudes and tolerance toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer (LGBTQ) persons vary from country to country, just as they vary among U.S. cities and states. Some countries offer many legal protections to those who are LGBTQ, while other countries criminalize homosexual behavior.

No matter where you go, you will encounter different ideologies and will have to adapt to different customs while you are abroad. Some students find it is necessary to hide their sexual orientation for safety reasons, while others feel free to express their sexual identity openly.  Each student’s experience will be unique and personal, but we strongly suggest that all LGBTQ students going abroad research the attitudes, customs, and laws of their host country to help them prepare for some of the potential challenges and to be an informed traveler.   The Internet is generally a good place to start (and we provide some web resources below), but LGBTQ travel guides can also provide excellent country-by-country advice. 

Must ask questions:
  • What are the laws regarding sexual orientation in my host country?
  • Is it safe for me to be out when I’m abroad? Should I come out to my host family?
  • What are the cultural norms for dating and friendship?
  • What kinds of LGBTQ resources are there in my host country?
  • What is the LGBTQ population like in my host country? How visible and large is it? How do they dress, behave, etc.?
  • Research the terms and definitions used in your host country to talk about LGBTQ issues.
  • Put your safety first.  If necessary, use discretion.
  • When traveling outside of your program, check for LGBTQ or “gay friendly” hotels and lodging. Some hotels won’t accept bookings from same sex couples – others actively seek LGBTQ bookings.
  • Find a support network abroad.
  • Be alert and try to avoid potentially unsafe environments. The general openness of LGBTQ settings can sometimes be taken advantage of by criminals. Look out for yourself and your friends, especially late at night.
  • If you experience difficulties, contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.  There are consular officers available 24/7 at every embassy who provide emergency assistance to Americans.

If you have a documented learning, physical or psychological disability, please contact the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities immediately after you receive your approval notification from the Center for International Programs. The Director of SJU’s Office of Student Disability Services will then follow established protocols, which include obtaining appropriate documentation from your provider and consulting with you, the CIP, and, if needed, with the program provider to discuss what types of reasonable accommodations might be available to you while participating in any University-sponsored travel abroad program. With advanced planning and plenty of vigilance, your trip abroad can be safe and enjoyable!



For students who are among the first in their family to attend college, it can be a challenge to figure out the ins and outs of navigating the university systems.  Since going to college is a big step in itself, the idea of studying abroad on top of that can be overwhelming.  Maybe you are concerned about talking with your parents because they feel studying abroad is an unrealistic goal or because they will worry about the distance.  Whatever the case may be, the best advice is to present them with all of the necessary information, which you can find by exploring our website and talking to a CIP advisor.  The following resources and tips may also be of use to you:

Must Ask Questions:
  • How can I explain to my family that a study abroad experience can contribute to my academic and career goals? 
  • Since no one in my family has studied abroad, who can help me stay on the right track as I plan?
  • Is it okay for my parents to meet with a Study Abroad Advisor?
  • Are there additional funding sources for study abroad? 
  • Consider how you will explain the process and interest in studying abroad to family and friends.
  • Consider what resources are available to both you, and your family.
  • Research! The more you know, the better equipped you will be to navigate new and challenging experiences.

If you have special eating habits, are committed to a particular way of eating (e.g., vegetarian, vegan, kosher, macrobiotic) or have health issues or food allergies that result in a special diet (e.g. Celiac’s), you will need to research your study abroad destination carefully before assuming that the food you need will be available. In many areas of the world, certain diets are not common, and in some cases, not eating food that has been prepared for you - even if for dietary reasons - is considered rude. If applicable, students living with a host family should inform the program provider of their dietary requirements immediately after acceptance into the program. The CIP or the study abroad program provider may need additional time to find a host family that would be able to accommodate specific requests.  If a host family cannot meet your needs, alternative housing solutions may be possible - but with early planning. If - for cultural, religious or personal reasons - you do not eat certain types of food you should contact the CIP or your study abroad program administrator to see whether or not your dietary needs can be accommodated.
  • Learn what is and isn't available so that you can experience the food of the culture you're living in while at the same time having your dietary needs met. Being flexible, whenever possible, about what you eat will make your study abroad experience easier and more enriching.

Religion is an important aspect of culture. While abroad, you may encounter people of various religious and non-religious backgrounds. It is important to understand your beliefs and those of your host country or region to identify any opportunities or challenges that may arise while you are abroad. Depending on where you go, religion may play a larger or smaller role than it does here in the US.  While you may be used to being part of the religious majority in the United States, your beliefs may make you a part of the religious minority while abroad. Most importantly, you want to be aware of the level of religious tolerance in your host country so you can make an informed decision on how you will practice your religion while abroad.

While abroad, students should always understand local laws, especially in regards to activities that appear as proselytizing and/or preaching. Always demonstrate respect to icons, statues, by wearing appropriate clothing (for example, many churches and temples forbid shoulders or knees to be exposed). If you are unsure how to dress or act, ask! If it seems appropriate, talk with your new friends, host family, conversation partner, teachers and others who are interested in discussing religion, faith, spirituality and the ways these issues are understood. You may gain a new perspective on religion by traveling abroad. You may even return home with an increased familiarity with other belief systems and a greater respect for them. 
Begin your research now by looking at the resources below and by talking with international students and program alumni on campus.

Must ask questions:
  • What is the dominant religion in my host country?
  • Will I be part of the religious majority or minority abroad? 
  • Are there any laws regarding religion? Is there a separation between religion and government? 
  • How tolerant is the host country of other religions? What about atheists and agnostics? 
  • Is it safe for me to wear religious symbols or clothing? 
  • Stay open minded about religious practices, even if you receive criticism for your beliefs.
  • If you are planning to practice your religion abroad, you may want to find out about available (and safe) places of worship.
  • If you have dietary restrictions related to your religion and you plan to stay with a host family while abroad, be sure to let your program director or on-site staff know prior to your departure so they have time to find appropriate arrangements for you.
  • Attend local worship services as these can give an insight to the local community (even if do not feel religious affiliation). Use the local religion as a lens to the local culture.
  • Diversity Abroad: Religion: Diversity Abroad provides some questions to think about before you travel abroad and some tips for dealing with religious challenges while you are abroad.
  • Religious Freedom Information: This resource is provided by the U.S. Department of State.  It provides information about international religious freedom and includes individual country chapters on the status of religious freedom worldwide.
  • The Pluralism Project: The mission of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University is to help Americans engage with the realities of religious diversity through research, outreach, and the active dissemination of resources.  The site offers extensive information on world religions and focuses on the meaning of religious pluralism.
  • Virtual Library: World Religions Links: A list of links to website regarding world religions.

Female travelers are more likely to face unwanted attention or even harassment in some cultures abroad.  However, you may be able to avoid uncomfortable situations with the following precautions:
  • Always try to stay with a group when exploring locally and avoid walking alone at night.
  • Research dress and social behaviors before you go, and respect the customs of the nation. What you think is casual may actually be considered provocative or unacceptable in other cultures. Know before you go, and pack accordingly.
  • On arrival, note what local women are wearing and how they act, and try to follow their lead.
  • Don’t feel the need to be overly polite if you are bothered by someone. While it may seem rude to be unfriendly to a stranger, creating boundaries to protect yourself is important. Use facial expressions, body language and a firm voice to fend off any unwanted attention. 
  • Trust your instincts. If something is making you feel uncomfortable, remove yourself from the situation. Please do not hesitate to contact the CIP at any time during your experience to report concerns or incidents.  

  • The Institute for the International Education of Students (or IES Abroad) shares its diversity video, “Speaking of diversity… What it means to be me in Granada.”  The video, shot and produced in Granada, Spain, provides a window into the thoughts and experiences of seven diverse students and their travels in Granada.
  • "Breaking Barriers," created and produced at San Francisco State University, features students from groups traditionally underrepresented in study abroad. Students who participated in pre and post study abroad interviews share their reflections.

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