You may be considered an ethnic or religious majority in the United States, but by going abroad you become, in a sense, a minority. There might not be a lot of U.S. students studying in the area you will be, so, in that sense, you are a novelty-someone new and different who stands out from the locals. 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. If a comment offends you, try to be tactful with your response, or if you are very upset, leave the room. Political turmoil or lack of tolerance can make some ethnic and religious groups a target for mistreatment or even violence in many countries. Political rallies and certain dates like anniversaries of historic events also often spur ethnic and religious conflicts in many countries. Certain hate crimes may not even be considered crimes in your host country. With regard to religion, the risk or censure you attract depends on your level of religious involvement abroad. If others where you will be studying have been attacked for practicing the religion you practice, any signs of your religious affiliation may put you at risk as well.
Ethnic or religious issues shouldn't be a negative factor of your study abroad experience. That's why it's important to do a little research ahead of time to survey the national sentiment and current events of your host country. Ask your program administrators if you should be aware of anything in particular related to ethnic or religious conflict. You may also want to check out the links on the OSU Study Abroad Website.
It is important for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) students to be aware that the way sexual identities are defined and understood will vary by country and culture. In some countries, even modern ones, homosexual sex itself can result in severe state-sanctioned punishment up to and including the death penalty. It is usually not homosexuality that brings about such punishments, but rather the sex act. You might want to consider how a possible threat of discrimination or punishment might affect your experience or activities in your host country. Be sure to research the prevailing sentiment toward LGBT issues abroad, as well as the laws related to them. If you don't want to compromise on your lifestyle or if you are concerned that your sexual orientation may be an issue, then you may have to be selective in where you travel. You may also want to check out the links on the OSU Study Abroad Website.
Students with disabilities abroad can also be the victims of prejudice and stereotyping. The disabled report being stared at, ignored, unassisted, and/or talked down to more frequently abroad than they tend to be in the United States. In many countries, there are no standards or requirements for providing access for the disabled. Wheelchair ramps, handicapped parking spaces, Braille signs, and other aides may be nonexistent in parts of the host country, especially rural areas. In addition to a lack of services provided to the physically disabled, there may also be a lack of services provided to those with a learning disability, those with a psychological or emotional need, or those who are mentally challenged. If you need to make special arrangements abroad, it is a good idea to inquire far in advance. Your program's staff abroad may require some time in order to facilitate your needs. Even though you request that your special needs be met, it may be impossible for your program's staff abroad to assist you.
The foreign policy of the United States does not always sit well with citizens of foreign countries. In some cases, U.S. citizens living abroad can be targets of the frustrations of these individuals. Consider the nature of the political climate and relations between the United States and your destination, as well as the other countries you plan to visit. There are some steps you can take to avoid being targeted for politically motivated crime or anti-U.S. crime in general. Try to assimilate your style of dress and mannerisms as much as possible into the local norms. "Dressing like a U.S. citizen" (or any way conspicuously different from the local look) makes it easier to identify you as "the other" or an "outsider" and can make you a target. Some common stereotypes about U.S. Americans portray U.S. Americans as: loud, inconsiderate, ignorant, rude, rich, arrogant, cheap, greedy, lazy, promiscuous, overweight, English-only speakers, etc. To avoid reinforcing such stereotypes, remember you are like an ambassador of the United States and its culture; as an ambassador abroad, it is your job to respect others and to act responsibly.