Embracing Your Identity Abroad

MISTI strives to foster a diverse and inclusive community – on campus and abroad. What makes you YOU? As you plan your time abroad consider the various facets of your identity and how that could influence the challenges you may face in a new culture as well as the new opportunities that may surprise you.

Going abroad is an exhilarating and transformative experience. There can be cultural, legal, political, religious, economic, and social contexts that may impact your experience. MISTI managers can provide you with further country-specific information. Please discuss specific questions or concerns with the MISTI staff. There are also other MIT offices and resources that can assist. Please visit the MIT ICEO website for a full list of programs, offices, staff, and other diversity resources at MIT.

MISTI is a member of the Diversity Abroad Network and you may wish to watch their student-centered Pre-Departure Video that explores topics of identity as they relate to the education abroad experience.

 

Embracing Your Identity Abroad

Preparation & training

Each year, MISTI hosts a series of trainings to better prepare our students for immersion in a new culture. Topics such as “Health and Safety” and “Cross-Cultural Communications” provide you with the tools to explore a new city and workplace.

In partnership with groups across campus such as the Institute Community Equity Office, LGBTQ+ Services, ISO, Multicultural Programs, OME, Community Wellness, Student Disabilities Services, and VPR, MISTI hosts diversity, equity, and inclusion events to help you navigate various identities abroad.

  • Embracing Your Diversity Abroad
  • IdentityX Abroad Discussion Series:
    • Going Abroad as a Student of Color: Navigating Identities Abroad
    • Religion Abroad
    • The LGBTQ+ Experience/Being Out in the World
Before you go

What makes you you? As you plan your program abroad, consider the various facets of your identity and how those may impact your time in a new culture, new country, and new community. Discuss any concerns and questions with your MISTI program manager and take advantage of the resources available to you – at MIT, at MISTI and online.

  • Attend your country pre-departure trainings
  • Attend different MISTI "Identity Abroad" events
  • Research your host country’s history, culture, laws, and demographics
  • Reach out to students who have done MISTI in your host country
  • Make use of online resources that provide personal stories, blogs, videos
  • Talk to your MISTI program manager
Campus resources

Your MISTI program manager can direct you to country-specific resources, address your concerns and connect with you former interns. MISTI’s DEI team is also available to offer advice and provide resources. Contact Mala Ghosh, MISTI Diversity Lead.

Disability & Accessibility

How accessible are your host city and workplace? How will you be perceived in a new country?

MISTI program managers will work closely with you to answer accessibility questions, help you navigate cultural challenges, and provide you with tips for adapting to a new country.

Things to consider as you prepare
  • How accessible are the areas in the country you are visiting?
  • How are people with disabilities viewed/treated?
  • Do you want to let other people know about your disability?
  • How should you respond to people abroad trying to help you when you do not want or need it?
  • Will your disability affect which programs you consider?
  • Will your disability prevent you or limit you from participating in certain excursions because of inaccessibility? 
  • How can you plan in advance?
MISTI recommends

If you choose to disclose your disability, be sure to discuss your needs with your MISTI program manager and the Student Disability Services office. Many accommodations require early planning, and requests for accommodations that are made as early as possible will allow us to better assist you in each specific country and workplace. Going abroad can be stressful in a new cultural and physical setting. Accommodations that you may not need at home may be necessary in your program country. You should arrange for any disability accommodations abroad well before departure, as in many countries there are no required or standard rules for easy accessibility. Receiving accommodations once you are already overseas will be more difficult for MIT to assist with and may not be possible in the same way as here. You may also find that attitudes differ towards disabilities and we encourage you to research your host country in advance and to openly speak with your program manager.

  • If you are using prescription medication, research what steps need to be taken in order to continue your routine abroad
  • Understand that the variety of care, counseling, and support you are used to in the U.S. may not be accessible abroad
  • Discuss accessibility related to your housing with your MISTI program manager
  • Talk with other students with disabilities about their experiences abroad
  • Plan in advance and utilize resources 
  • Research your host environment and culture

Source: Diversity Abroad

Campus resources
Online resources
  • Mobility International USA: A disability-led non-profit organization headquartered in Eugene, Oregon, USA advancing disability rights and leadership globally. Site includes personal stories and podcasts from people with disabilities going abroad and the positive impact these experiences have on shifting ideas of what is possible.
  • Accessible Travel Online Resources: Lonely Planet’s largest list of online resources for accessible travel. 
  • The Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (SATH): An educational, nonprofit, membership organization whose mission is to raise awareness of the needs of all travelers with disabilities, remove physical and attitudinal barriers to free access and expand travel opportunities in the United States and abroad.
  • Traveling with a Disability: A guide to accessible tourism for people with disability.
  • Transitions Abroad: Disability Travel: “It’s worth it.” Interviews with travelers who have made the journey overseas—as a person with a disability or as an exchange leader with participants with disabilities on the program—admit to the reflective value of the experience time and time again.

Race & Ethnicity

How will you be perceived in a new country?

While abroad you may face different interpretations of your race, ethnicity, and other characteristics that are quite different from what you are used to in the U.S. MISTI program managers will work closely with you to address your questions, help you navigate possible cultural challenges, and provide you with tips for thriving in a new country.

Things to consider as you prepare
  • How is your race/ethnicity perceived in the country you will be visiting? Are there certain stereotypes you might face?
  • Is there a possibility you will experience discrimination, racism or classism? How will you handle it?
  • How will you handle questions about your racial/ethnic group? Is the person curious or do they have bad intentions?
  • What are the racial/ethnic minorities and majorities of the country you will be visiting?
  • Is there history of or current hostile racial/ethnic tensions?
  • Are there any immigration/migration political issues that may impact race/ethnic relations?
  • Will there be other racial/ethnic minorities in your program? Is that important to you?
  • Has your host family hosted students of different races before? If not, will it be an issue?
  • Who can you talk to at MISTI or MIT about any discrimination while you are abroad?
MISTI recommends
  • Research current news in the county you will be visiting as well as cultural perceptions and stereotypes.
  • Talk to your MISTI program manager before and during the program about any questions or concerns.
  • Understand that you may encounter discrimination or prejudice while abroad. People may also generalize or incorrectly identify your ethnicity/race.
  • Talk to other students who have been abroad or read personal stories/blogs, articles, watch videos, etc.
  • People may stare, take pictures, or try to touch your hair and skin. Others may ask you insensitive questions.
  • If someone’s actions or words offend you, try to determine if it’s malicious or curiosity about you and your culture, if it’s the latter try to use it as a teachable moment.

Source: Diversity Abroad

Online resources

Source: Diversity Abroad

Religion & Spirituality

Is your religion practiced in your host country? How is spirituality viewed in your new culture?

Religion and spirituality impact cultures around the world. MISTI program managers will work closely with you to address your needs, help you navigate the unfamiliar, and provide you with tips for thriving in a new country.

Things to consider as you prepare
  • Is the country tolerant of other religions or those with no religious beliefs? What is their main religion or are multiple religions followed?
  • How do people perceive your religion?
  • Is it safe to worship or wear religious symbols and/or clothing?
  • Will you be able to access your places of worship or groups?
  • Are there any laws about religion? Is there separation between church and the government?
  • Will you be able to access proper foods if you have dietary restrictions?

Source: Diversity Abroad

MISTI recommends
  • Keep an open mind about religions that may be different from your own as it will help you learn more about the culture of the country you are visiting.
  • Research places of worship before you go, if you plan on practicing while abroad. If they are not available, determine how you will maintain your practice.
  • Try to stay current with news about religion in the country you will be visiting.
  • Research laws about your religion in your host country.

Source: Diversity Abroad

Online resources

LGBTQ+

What are the laws regarding sexual orientation in your host country?

For LGBTQ+ travelers, researching your host country’s acceptance of the LGBTQ community is important to gauge how you will be able to interact safely. In some countries, LGBTQ communities are openly embraced and welcomed. In others, the sentiment may be hostile and the government may have enacted laws criminalizing behavior, relationships, and even expressions of LBGTQ acceptance or existence. MISTI would like to make sure you understand these challenges and risks when going abroad so you can make the most informed decision for your own personal well-being. MIT has resources to provide this information via your country program manager and MISTI DEI team at mistidei@mit.edu. We welcome you to raise any concerns with us.

Things to consider as you prepare
  • What are the laws and cultural norms regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, including hate crime laws and laws of consent?
  • What LGBTQ+ resources are available in the country you are visiting?
  • Will you or can you be out? If so, are there safety concerns to consider? If not, how will this affect your day-to-day experience?
  • What are the social attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people in the country you’re visiting?
  • Will you need medications, supplies, or services due to your transgender status? Are they available in the country you are visiting? If not, will you need any additional documentation to travel with medication or supplies?
  • Will you have access to gender-neutral bathrooms? If not, which bathroom can you use without getting into trouble?
MISTI recommends
  • Familiarize yourself with the LGBTQ+ customs, laws, culture and climate of the country.
  • If you are willing to share your questions, please discuss any concerns with your MISTI program manager or MISTI Diversity Team (mistidei@mit.edu).
  • Find support networks/communities in the area you will be staying.
  • Research currents news in the country you will be visiting.
  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Learn cultural norms and terminology related to LGBTQ+ persons and relationships in the local language.
  • Speak with other LGBTQ+ MISTI students about their experiences abroad.
  • Ask your MISTI program manager for student or alumni contacts who are willing to share their experience.

Source: Diversity Abroad

Online resources

First Generation Students

Does your family have a hard time seeing the benefits of going abroad?

Being a first generation student can sometimes be overwhelming – especially if you’re planning to go abroad outside of the regular academic year. MISTI program managers will work closely with you to address your financial concerns, help you plan for your travel, and provide you with examples of student success stories.

Things to consider as you prepare
  • How will you express your interest, explain the process, and describe the benefits of going abroad to your family?
  • Will you need additional resources to help fund your program outside of what MISTI provides? Do you need funds to get a passport or pay for the visa?
  • Who can you check in with to make sure you’re on the right track during your planning process?
MISTI recommends
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be sure to talk to other students and program managers.
  • Decide your reasons for going abroad and the goals you’d like to accomplish.
  • Find out what resources are available to you and utilize them.
  • Research the country you’ll be visiting.
  • Create a planning timeline. Get help, if needed, to keep you on schedule.

Source: Diversity Abroad

Online resources

Students and Financial Aid

Sure, MISTI is cost-neutral – but what are the hidden costs?

Many students on financial aid assume that going abroad isn’t an option for them. However, through the MISTI program, your flights and living expenses are covered. Additionally, your program manager will work closely with you to address your financial concerns such as the summer earning expectation, help you plan for your travel, and provide you with tips for budgeting in a new community.

Things to consider as you prepare
  • How are you going to budget your time abroad?
  • What are some money saving strategies that you use in the U.S.? Will you be able to utilize them during your time abroad?
  • Is the cost-of-living in the country you’ll be visiting higher than what you’re used to in the U.S.?
  • Are you planning on traveling to more than one country?
  • What other preventative vaccinations or medications might you need?
  • Is the visa cost covered by MISTI?
  • What are the costs associated with keeping in touch with friends/family back home?
  • How much does to cost to travel and go out on weekends?
  • Do you need a credit card or debit card?
MISTI recommends
  • Consult with the MISTI program manager about what is covered by the program and what is not included.
  • Create a cost-of-living comparison.
  • Make a list of your expenses.
  • Consider expenses and ways to decrease your costs. Are there charges for withdrawing money and is there a way to avoid them? If you’re taking public transit regularly, are there monthly or student discounts?
  • Discuss any concern about items on your budget with the MISTI program manager to see if there are alternative funding sources.

Source: Diversity Abroad

International Students

I’m already studying abroad at MIT – what benefit is MISTI to me? Will I need a new U.S. visa?

As an international student, the process of traveling to and living in another country can be both exciting and daunting. MISTI program managers will work closely with you to address your concerns and review visa, passport and insurance information.

Things to consider as you prepare
  • Do you understand the visa process and your requirements? (Requirements vary depending on your citizenship and which country you’ll be visiting.)
  • Are you allowed to do a MISTI internship?
  • What do you need to do to maintain your current U.S. visa status?
  • Will you need a new U.S. visa to reenter the U.S. after your studies abroad? If yes, where should you apply, what kind of documentation will you need, how long will it take, and are there risks of not getting a visa to return to the U.S.?
  • Are there additional requirements for multi-destination programs or planned side trips?
MISTI recommends
  • Reach out to ISO as soon as possible and discuss your visa situation.
  • Reach out to MISTI program managers with any questions or concerns.
  • Start researching and planning as soon as possible. As an international student there are more requirements that can slow the process.
  • Determine when you will go abroad and what costs you’ll face.
  • Contact the nearest embassy or consulate and only look at direct government websites (.gov) to avoid scams.
  • Reach out to ISO again to make sure you have the proper paper work to leave and reenter the U.S.

Source: Diversity Abroad