Traveling As You: A guide for Specific Identities
a resource for allyship
One of the best ways to show up as an ally for your peers is to listen to their experiences and respect their requests for support. Below is a resource to expand your awareness around specific identities. Learn more about Dragons approach to Allyship Abroad.
Unfortunately, discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, and skin tone exists in different forms all over the world. In some destinations, especially rural or ethnically homogenous areas, people may not have had much exposure to racial diversity. As such, people with certain physical characteristics may experience unwanted attention. Most commonly, this might include staring, insensitive comments, people taking your photo (with or without asking), or attempts to touch your skin or hair. Black students traveling in parts of Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and North Africa have often reported higher levels of unwanted attention than their peers. White students traveling in parts of Asia and Africa have also reported receiving unwanted attention. Students are encouraged to communicate with staff if they feel their personal boundaries are being violated or if they feel unsafe or uncomfortable in any situation. We encourage you to believe your peers if/when they share experiences like this with you.
If you are a heritage student (someone with family heritage in the country where you are traveling) or might be mistaken for a local, you may also experience different treatment than peers who look clearly foreign. People you meet may have expectations that you speak the local language or understand cultural norms, and this can bring up a variety of emotions for different students.
International students at Dragons may also find themselves in a minority within their peer group, and might struggle to connect to some of the cultural references of fellow students. It is common for Dragons instructors to have close mentorship relationships with students, which might seem unfamiliar to students from cultures with a more formal, distanced relationship from teachers. In general, the level of attention students receive on Dragons programs can feel more “hands on” than many international students are used to, including regular group check-ins to talk about physical and emotional wellbeing.
Questions to Consider
- Will I be a part of the racial/ethnic majority or minority in this country?
- Are there local organizations or perspectives that I want to learn more about?
- How might host country attitudes about race influence how people interact with me?
- Are there things about my culture that I want to share with people I meet?
- Do I need to bring certain products from home for hair or skin care?
- How are people of my national origin viewed in this country?<.em>
Student perspectives on Race/Ethnicity
- From the Yak Board: Colorism in Senegal
- From the Yak Board: Black Identity in Bolivia
- From the Yak Board: Reflections from a heritage student in China
- Diversity Abroad’s Guide: Minority and Students of Color Abroad
- Diversity Abroad’s Guide: Heritage Seekers Abroad
- BBC News Feature: What Does It Mean to Be a Black Traveler?
- Resources for Travelers of Color: We Go Too World
- Blog Post From How Not to Travel: Traveling While Black
- Blog Post From How Not to Travel: Traveling While Asian
- Blog Post From How Not to Travel: Traveling While Native
Social, cultural, religious, political, and legal attitudes toward the LGBTQ+ community vary around the world. According to the Global Acceptance Index, average levels of acceptance for LGBTQ+ people around the world have been increasing since 1981. However, many countries where Dragons operates programs may have social discrimination or even laws against being LGBTQ+. We have safely supported LGBTQ+ students in all of our program areas, and provide specific cultural and geographic advice to help students stay safe on course.
In some cases, students may be advised not to speak about their sexual orientations and/or gender identities with local contacts (such as homestay families, ISP mentors, language teachers, and guest speakers) due to safety concerns. Likewise, transgender and non-binary students may have to choose to present outwardly as male or female in certain contexts during the program. In other cases, “coming out” to some or all host community members may be a safe choice.
For safety reasons, students are also requested not to discuss the identities of their LGBTQ+ peers with host communities without the student’s prior explicit permission. Since LGBTQ+ may have to hide parts of themselves while traveling, it can be especially important to have a safe space to discuss experiences within the student group.
Questions to Consider
- Is it safe to be openly LGBTQ+ in this country?
- How might host country beliefs impact how people interact with me?
- How might it feel if I have to hide a part of my identity from host community members? What ways can I feel supported, valued, and proud while hiding parts of me?
- Are there local LGBTQ+ organizations or perspectives that I want to learn more about?
- What is the history of LGBTQ+ people in this country? How have attitudes changed over time?
Student Perspectives on sexual orientation and gender
- From the Yak Board: Perspective from LGBTQ+ student in Guatemala
- From the Yak Board: Non-binary gender (Waria) in Indonesia:
Our program destinations ranked by LGBTQ+ friendliness (last updated April 2021)
This list is based on information from our own on-the-ground knowledge, the Global Acceptance Index, ILGA, and this LGBTQ+ Travel Safety Index. We considered factors such as LGBTQ+ protection and criminalization laws, social and cultural attitudes, violence, and the state of LGBTQ+ rights (marriage, adoption, etc). *These rankings are not intended as a comprehensive resource— keep in mind that stories of LGBTQ+ issues in each country are more nuanced than we can represent in this index.
- LGBTQ+ friendly score (widely socially accepted, legally protected): United States, Taiwan, Thailand
- LGBTQ+ medium score (some legal protection, social attitudes vary): Colombia, Bolivia, Mexico, Peru, Nepal
- LGBTQ+ neutral score (social attitudes vary, not protected or criminalized legally): Nicaragua, Cambodia, India, Panama, Dominican Republic, China, Laos, Guatemala
- LGBTQ+ negative scores (criminalized, widely considered a social taboo): Indonesia, Madagascar, Bhutan, Rwanda, Jordan, Morocco, Myanmar, Senegal
- Diversity Abroad’s Guide: LGBTQ+ students abroad
- GoAbroad’s Resource for LGBTQ+ travelers: Meaningful Travel Tips and Tales, LGBTQ perspectives
- LGBTQ+ Rights Research Organization: Outright Action International
- PBS Feature: A Map of Gender-Diverse Cultures
- National Geographic Video: Third Gender: An Entrancing Look at Mexico’s Muxes
- IES Abroad Resources: LGBTQ+ and Ally Resources
- Collaborative LGBT Knowledge base including rights by country: Equaldex
- ILGA Website Including World Maps of Local Laws and LGBTQ+ Travel Guides: The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association
- Blog Post from How Not to Travel: Traveling While Queer
Social and cultural views on gender roles vary from country to country, and often from region to region between urban and rural areas. Students will learn to understand societal expectations around gender in the host country while also reflecting on their own values around gender roles. Male- and female-presenting students often encounter different expectations from host country individuals (an example: a homestay family might have higher expectations for female students to participate in household chores, or be more lenient with a male student who wants to go out independently and meet local friends).
Out of cultural respect and for safety reasons, we recommend interacting with people of a gender different from yours (including your fellow students) according to local norms. Learning about the norms for mixed gender friendships is useful for you and can also help protect the reputation of local friends in more conservative communities. Cultural differences around body language and behavior may also lead to actions being interpreted differently than they would be at home.
Female-presenting students may experience more unwanted attention and harassment than their peers. Some situations that are safe or culturally acceptable for male-presenting students might pose a risk for female-presenting students. Instructors will provide additional tools and safety tips for female-presenting students in each local context. This is also an opportunity for male-presenting students to practice their allyship skills and use their privilege with female-presenting peers in mind. Male-presenting students might encounter expectations to act in ways that are considered “masculine” in the local context, and may navigate stereotypes different from their home context.
New cultural environments can be disorienting, and it can be difficult to tell if an interaction is appropriate or “normal” in a new context. Sometimes it can be hard to identify harassment while you are traveling, and you may find yourself questioning whether your personal boundaries are “culturally appropriate”. All students are encouraged to always trust their instincts and come directly to instructors if they ever feel uncomfortable with any situation.
Questions to Consider
- What do gender roles look like in this country? How does this compare with my own beliefs about gender?
- How might host country beliefs about gender impact how people interact with me?
- How might I need to adapt my behavior to stay safe and remain culturally respectful on the program?
- Are there local organizations working for gender equality that I want to learn more about?
Student Perspectives on Gender
- From the Yak Board: Reflections from a female-identified student in Senegal
- Diversity Abroad Article: Women Going Abroad
- Tara Burton’s Article: Dangers of Traveling While Female
- Brown University Guide: Men & Women Abroad
- Blog Post from Go Mad Nomad: 10 Awesome Things Male Travelers Do For Solo Female Travelers
- Article from Maiden Voyage: Safety Tips and Guides for Female and LGBTQ+ Travelers
Learning about religious and spiritual traditions is an integral part of our curriculum on many programs, and students should expect to hear from local religious leaders, including religious minorities. If you have religious practices such as dietary restrictions or accommodations that need to be made, please inform your instructors so they can do their best to support your needs. Sometimes you may be invited to take part in local ceremonies or religious practices— if you are not comfortable participating, ask your instructors for guidance on how to respectfully opt out.
In many cultures, religion is more of a public topic than in the US. It is common for people to ask your religion shortly after learning your name. Some students might find that their religious beliefs and practices are well understood (and even highly valued) in the host country, while others may discover that people they meet in the host country have never heard of their religion. In some countries, explaining that you are atheist/agnostic may be met with puzzlement or curiosity. Jewish and Muslim students should be aware of the possibility that they may hear anti-Semitic or Islamophobic views openly expressed in some contexts.
Questions to Consider
- Is it safe to wear religious symbols or openly practice my religion in this country?
- Will I be a part of a religious minority or majority in this country?
- How might I need to adapt my practice while traveling?
- Are there religious holidays I want to observe on my program?
- Are there places of worship available to me on my program?
- How might host country beliefs about religion impact how people interact with me?
Students abroad may find themselves challenged to interact with people who have very different political beliefs than them, both within the student group and in the host community. In some cases, students might find that they share more beliefs with members of the host community than with their peer group. While traveling abroad, all students will have the opportunity to engage with political thought in a new context.
Questions to Consider
- How do I want to approach interacting with people whose political beliefs are different from mine?
- Where have you observed an us vs. them mentality when talking about politics?
- What is the impact of an us vs. them mentality when building new relationships?
- What does it look like to approach challenging conversations with empathy?
- Diversity Abroad: Engaging in Challenging Conversations Abroad
- New York Times Article: Talking Across Divides
- Resource from the American Cultures Center at UC Berkeley: How to Have Political Conversations
- NPR Article: Politics in the Classroom
- Southern Poverty Law Center Free Resources for Educators Teaching to Social Justice: Learning for Justice
The way disability and mental health is talked about varies greatly in different contexts around the world, and you should expect to encounter beliefs and assumptions that are different from your own. Students who struggle to maintain mental health at home should make a plan about how they will cope abroad, especially given that many of their usual coping mechanisms and the relationships in their support networks won’t be available to them while traveling.
For students with neuro-differences (such as dyslexia, ADHD, ASD, TS, and dyspraxia), it is important to be aware that neurodiversity is likely viewed differently abroad than at home. People might not be familiar with labels or terms that are very common where you come from. If you struggle with lots of external stimuli, you should be prepared that you will be in some environments that are louder and busier than what you are used to.
If you are a student with a physical disability, you might encounter challenges around accessibility than you have at home. Many of the places we travel at Dragons don’t have building codes or other regulations in place to support people with visual, hearing, or mobility impairments. You may need accommodations or support that you don’t usually require in your life at home.
Questions to Consider
- What level of popular awareness (or lack of awareness) exists about people like me in the country I’m visiting?
- How accessible is the host country for people with my disability?
- What accommodations might I need for my disability abroad? Have I discussed them with the Dragons admissions?
- How might my time abroad be an opportunity to explore ways disability is considered in different cultures?
- Diversity Abroad’s Guide: Students with Disabilities Abroad
- From the US State Department: Country Information for Travelers with Disabilities
Students may find themselves navigating a new set of beauty standards and cultural norms about body size. In some of the places we travel, it is common to openly comment on body size and weight loss or gain. Regardless of your body size, you may deal with unsolicited comments on your appearance in the form of observations, nicknames, insensitive comments, or compliments. In places where larger body types are considered more beautiful and desirable, some students may find themselves dealing with increased attention and harassment including cat-calling, staring, or unwanted attention. In settings such as homestays, students of all body types may encounter frequent comments on their appetite or frequently be asked to eat more food.
Questions to Consider
- What are local perceptions of my body size in the host country? How might this impact how people interact with me?
- How can my instructors and peers best support me during the program?
- How might my time abroad be an opportunity to explore different ideas about the ways different bodies are valued?
- Travel Blog Featuring Plus-Size Perspectives: The Fat Girl’s Guide
Low-Income & First Generation Students
If you come from a low-income background, you may find yourself surrounded by students who come from comparative wealth and privilege. This can sometimes feel alienating when peers talk about what is “normal” for them at home and you can’t relate, especially in conversations where other students compare the context where you’re traveling with what they are accustomed to back home. You may find that displays of wealth (including buying lots of things, producing lots of food waste, and carrying expensive stuff) from your peer group feel uncomfortable. Some low-income students express feeling more connected with host communities than with fellow students in these cases.
If you’re the first person in your family to travel or study abroad, it might be that people in your family or community do not understand why you are choosing to travel, learn another language, and do homestays. We can put you in touch with other students who have gone through similar experiences and are always available to answer questions from family members.
If you are from a wealthy country such as the United States, you may find that some local people hold beliefs about your lifestyle at home that don’t actually reflect your reality. People may assume that you are wealthy and in some cases pressure you to spend or share money. You may also find that the power of your passport and currency puts you in a privileged position in the host country context. In some host cultures, it is common to talk about money in a direct way that might be shocking for some students (example: asking how much money your parents make or how much your host cost).
Questions to Consider
- What is my relationship to wealth and privilege outside my home context? What types of privilege do I hold abroad that I might not think about at home?
- How will I frame the value of my Dragons program for friends and family at home?
Additional Resources for Identity Abroad
- Diversity Abroad: Comprehensive Resource with Articles and Perspective Pieces from Many Different Identities
- ISEP Resources for Diversity, Inclusion & Accessibility abroad: Resources from the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP), the largest university study abroad exchange network in the world
- Country Handbooks from ISEP: includes Bolivia, China, India, Indonesia, Morocco, Senegal, and Thailand
- Identity Abroad Resources from Smith College: Includes an overview on different identities and study abroad
- Diversity Issues in Study Abroad: A collection of study quotes from Brown University highlighting diversity issues for students from a wide range of identities in different study abroad destinations around the world
- IFSA’s Unpacked: A Study Abroad Guide for Students Like Me: A blog run by the international office at Butler University featuring a diverse range of student perspectives