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Your Identity Abroad

Reflect As You Prepare

By reflecting on who you are before going abroad, you can connect with the right resources and support to have the best experience possible.

We're here to help as you think about your identity in a new context, learn about new cultural norms and ways of life, and find the support you need.

Resources for Study Abroad Students

No matter how you identify or where you're headed, early planning and communication are the keys to a successful study abroad experience. Research your destination, read up on advice for travelers who share your identities, and stay connected with campus resources.

Each section below offers questions to start planning for your time abroad—but you don't have to do it alone! Get advice from a study abroad advisor, reach out to a returned study abroad student, or connect with campus resources and support.

Jump to:

Race and Ethnicity | Disability | Gender | LGBTQIA+ | International Students | Religion and Spirituality | First Generation

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Race and Ethnicity

Understanding how cultural differences can shape perceptions of race, ethnicity, nationality, and identity is an important part of preparing to go abroad. Start by researching your new locale to get a sense of the ways race and ethnicity are viewed, which may be different than in the United States. U.S. Department of State traveler information is a good place to begin.

Locals may have preconceived ideas about you based on the color of your skin, your clothing, the way you speak, or other characteristics. You may have new experiences of being part of the minority. There may also be positive opportunities for cultural exchange when you can help the local community understand that all individuals are unique, regardless of their backgrounds.

Whatever the case, your on-site program staff and our advisors are always resources if you’re faced with an uncomfortable situation.

Start Planning: Race and Ethnicity

  • Is there a history of racial or ethnic tension in your host country? Is the issue of immigration a source of tension currently?
  • What anti-discrimination laws are in place in your host country?
  • Will you be a minority in your host country?
  • How might you respond if someone makes incorrect assumptions about your racial or ethnic identity?


Laws, resources, attitudes, and practices vary by city, country, institution, and program. Our advisors are here to help you identify the best program for your goals and interests. You'll work with Student Disability Services to ensure your accommodation needs are met. 

You can set yourself up for success by researching your host country’s typical conditions and cultural perceptions and connecting early with your advisor, program, and Student Disability Services. The CDC Yellow Book pulls together many resources for travelers with activity limitations. Be sure to connect with Cornell Health and your own medical professionals before you leave the country.

It's your responsibility to seek out resources and notify your host program or institution of accommodations you'll need. At your request, the Student Disability Services office can send a letter of accommodation or your medical records to your host institution. They cannot provide advice about accommodation request processes followed by non-Cornell programs or institutions.

Start Planning: Disability

  • What accommodations, if any, will you need abroad? What accessibility measures exist in your host country?
  • Will you use public transit? Do you foresee any transportation challenges while traveling independently or in groups?
  • Is your medication legal and available in your host country?
  • Who are the faculty and staff you'll work with on site to make arrangements for your accommodations?
  • How will you continue to communicate with doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, and other practitioners, if needed, while you're abroad?


When you're abroad, you may find that gender roles and norms differ from what you’re used to. Some countries have distinctive beliefs about gender expression, and being aware of these differences could impact your behavior, routines, and dress.

Before going abroad, it's a good idea to research local views of gender, including behavioral expectations, customs of dating and relationships, and other topics. However, being sensitive to cultural differences does not mean you must tolerate behaviors that feel offensive or unsafe.

Guides from the U.S. State Department provide practical tips for travelers, including women. For those who identify outside their gender assigned at birth or outside the gender binary, the resources for LGBTQIA+ students may be useful.

Start Planning: Gender

  • What genders are recognized in your host country? How flexible are gender roles?
  • Do legal rights differ by gender in your intended host country?
  • What are the cultural norms for friendships and dating that differ between your home country and your host country?
  • What are the gender stereotypes of Americans in your host country?


Traditions, norms, and values around gender and sexuality differ by country, region, and individual. Take the time to develop a sense of cultural expectations and laws. Your research can help you decide where to study, assess risks, and understand how your identity may shape your experience. Before you go, identify the resources that are right for you.

On campus, the LGBT Resource Center can be a great place to start.

Guides from the U.S. State Department provide useful tips, including for LGBTQI+ travelers. You can also find helpful information like how to select a gender marker on your U.S. passport and advice on how to go through TSA screenings most comfortably.

Start Planning: LGBTQIA+

  • What genders are recognized in your host country? How flexible are gender roles?
  • What are general social attitudes toward being LGBTQ+ in your host country?
  • Are there local laws pertaining to gender identity or sexual orientation?
  • If your gender identity does not align with the sex listed on your legal documents, what challenges might you face? Are there situations when you may choose not to disclose your identity?
  • If you regularly utilize any health or counseling services at home, will these be available and covered by insurance abroad?

International Students

As an international student at Cornell, you have valuable experience in adapting to new cultures, navigating visa processes, and learning a new environment. You can add to your experience by studying outside the U.S. or your home country.

When planning to study abroad, it is important to check with International Services at Cornell to ensure you have the necessary visa documents to return to the U.S. as an international student. International Services can't provide advice on entry into other countries. Check out this useful page from International Services for international students planning to study abroad.

Start Planning: International Students

  • What is your immigration/visa status in the U.S.?
  • What will you need for reentry to the U.S.?
  • If you're an F-1 student, will your time abroad impact eligibility for future CPT or OPT work authorization?
  • What did you learn about yourself when adjusting to your studies at Cornell? Are there lessons you learned that you can apply to your study abroad experience?

Religion and Spirituality

Whether or not you identify with a set of religious beliefs, you may see the impact of religion in your study abroad destination. Research religious traditions in your host country to better understand how beliefs and practices affect daily life. The U.S. Department of State religious freedom reports are a great place to start.

If you do practice a religion, your host country may not observe the same religious holidays, and you may need to explain your observances to local program staff or others. This is especially true if you require special housing or dietary accommodations.

There may also be local holidays you don't observe that can depart from your normal routine. Cornell's Office of Spirituality and Meaning-Making is a resource for you.

Start Planning: Religion and Spirituality

  • Which religions are practiced in your host country? Are there any religious holidays or traditional days of worship during your time abroad?
  • Do religious traditions influence local laws, policies, and practices?
  • How accepting is your host community of non-dominant religious groups? Will you be able to practice or talk openly about your religion or spiritual beliefs?
  • If you have dietary restrictions or other practices tied to your religious beliefs, will your study abroad program accommodate them?

First-Generation College Students

If you're the first in your family to go to college, you and your family may have questions about the study abroad experience. You might want to talk about why leaving campus to pursue an international experience is important to your goals and adds value to your college years. Our guide to study abroad for students' families is a great place to get more information.

Cornell offers support to first-generation and low-income students through Student and Campus Life.

Start Planning: First-Generation College Students

  • What program offers the right amount of support for you?
  • What information might be helpful to share with your family?
  • Who can you talk to at Cornell to learn more about what study abroad might be like?
  • What aspects of college life have I struggled with on the main campus? How will those aspects translate into my abroad experience?