Pre-Departure Guide:

Race and Ethnicity Abroad

Whether you are a prospective participant, already enrolled, or a Verto alumni – we are thrilled to have you in the Verto Community! At Verto, we are committed to fostering community and embracing diversity in all of our locations – we value and welcome you for exactly the person that you are.

We acknowledge that aspects of all participants’ identities can bring challenges, questions, and opportunities both when entering a new community and especially while immersing in a new culture. Our Pre-Departure Guides are intended to be a resource for you as you embark on this journey.

Racial and Ethnic Identity Abroad

BIPOC students have previously participated and thrived in every location offered by Verto Education. This guide is intended to give you information, context, and perspective as you prepare for your experience with Verto.

It’s important to note that this guide does not mean to overgeneralize or oversimplify the complex experiences that participants can and will have. We acknowledge that all participants have intersectional identities – meaning, each community member has a unique experience based on the various social identities and personal histories they bring to the table– from race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, citizenship status, class, ability, and more.

What to Know Before You Travel

Many participants, especially those who are away from home for the first time, explore their identity in new ways while abroad. The reality is that traveling abroad may present a spectrum of experiences, opportunities, and unique challenges to BIPOC participants.

Below, we’ve summarized some potential challenges that former participants have shared, with a handful of tips to help set you up for success.

Navigating Culture Shock

It is normal to experience culture shock when living in a new country and culture, and your racial and/or ethnic identity abroad can be another layer of culture shock to consider. Other countries have different cultural norms, varying levels of racial and ethnic diversity, and local populations can be less aware or “politically correct” than those in the U.S.

Tips to Thrive: 

      • Research your specific location to understand more about diversity, cultural norms, and potential biases. 
      • Explore some self-reflection prompts. The following questions (sourced from Diversity Abroad) could be helpful to think about:
        • What is my identity, what are the parts that are the most important to me? How might race, ethnicity be different in my home region? How is my race/ethnic group perceived in my host country? 
        • What kind of stereotypes are there? 
        • How might I react if I find something to be offensive? How do I want to react? 
        • How will I navigate a new culture and community while remaining true to my identity?
      • Find out what products are available. You may want to research personal care products in your specific location since it might be difficult to source certain products while abroad. In that case, you’ll want to come prepared with any products you may need from home.
      • Always put your safety and wellbeing first. If you ever feel uncomfortable in a situation, do not hesitate to leave. Protecting yourself, whether that’s physically or emotionally, should always come before being “polite” or other considerations. If you ever feel unsafe, notify a Verto staff member immediately.

Various Levels of Privilege & Awareness in Your Cohort

No two Verto participants are going to be the same. Verto Education is a multicultural experience and you will interact with people who have different lived experiences and levels of exposure and awareness. This interaction is an expected and celebrated component of the Verto experience, and it may bring up times where someone’s perspective could feel frustrating or hurtful.

Tips to Thrive: 

    • Listen for intent. When you face potentially challenging questions, we encourage you to listen for intent and consider that this may be the first time you or your peer have met someone with any given identity. This does NOT mean that intolerance is accepted; it does mean that we accept well-intentioned mistakes as part of the learning process.
    • Feel free to say no. It is not your responsibility to educate others or speak on behalf of your racial or ethnic group, unless you feel called to do so. If you don’t want to share about yourself or your perspective, you have every right to respectfully let others know that you’d prefer to change the subject.
    • Use questions as a way to challenge beliefs or comments. For example, if someone says something that you find offensive or unthoughtful, you can try to reply by asking: “What do you mean by that?” or “Where did you get that idea from?”

Building Your Support Network

In a totally new environment, it can feel challenging to feel a sense of belonging at the start. Like all people, you probably want to feel seen and understood, and you may crave a group of friends that understand your background and lived experience.

Tips to Thrive: 

      • Check-in with family and friends back home. You might want to consider setting up a regular time to check in with your support community back home every 1 or 2 weeks, especially at the beginning of the experience. It can be helpful to keep in touch with friends or family from home who know you well. 
      • Get involved! Verto offers clubs such as Yoga or Art Club that provide all participants with fun activities and a sense of community. Don’t have a group yet for your favorite activity?! Start it! 
      • Invite others in. Want to link up with other BIPOC participants or start the conversation? Consider creating an affinity group for other BIPOC participants in your location, or starting a book club or conversation group to discuss topics surrounding race and ethnicity. 
      • Join Verto’s virtual affinity groups before departure to connect with participants of similar identities. You will have the opportunity to meet participants across all locations. (Find all event registration in your Student Portal). 
      • Get to know mentors, faculty, and staff on-site. They can be a great resource for advice, support, or just new perspectives!
      • Don’t be afraid to branch out into the wider community in your new town or city. You could check out Facebook groups or hashtags on Instagram (for example #BlackInItaly or #AsianInLondon) to find events or like minded folks in your new home. If you plan on meeting new people, take the same safety precautions you would at home: meet in a public space and make sure at least one friend knows where you are going.

Verto Policies on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Verto Education is committed to fostering community and embracing diversity on Verto locations. Institutionally, we are committed to implementing hiring practices that result in Verto staff who are reflective of our diverse student population. We also continue to encourage and create more opportunities for every participant, especially those who are underrepresented in higher education and study abroad.

Verto Education does not tolerate discrimination based on gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, or ability. If you experience an incident of discrimination, harassment, bullying or assault, Verto encourages you to report it. You do not have to go through the experience alone and your voice and feelings matter. Assistance and resources are available, and you are not required to make a formal complaint or participate in an investigation to access them.

If at any point during the experience, you need  to report any inappropriate activity, want to share something privately, or have a grievance, you may notify your Student Life Coordinator,  Academic Success Coordinator, or email deanofstudents@vertoeducation.org.

Mental Health Resources at Verto

Mental Health support is available for participants via onsite and remote support services.  Contact your Student Life Coordinator, Academic Success Coordinator, or email deanofstudents@vertoeducation.org to coordinate or if you need anything urgently.

Definitions

The words people use to discuss power, privilege, identity, and oppression can often hold different meanings for different people. We believe it’s critical to have conversations from a place of shared understanding. The following definitions provide the framework from which we explore topics of race and ethnicity in this guide. 

Thanks to Racial Equity Tools  for these definitions. Want to learn more? Check out a more comprehensive list here.

    • Allyship: Someone who makes the commitment and effort to recognize their privilege (based on gender, class, race, sexual identity, etc.) and work in solidarity with oppressed groups in the struggle for justice.
    • Accountability: Refers to the ways in which individuals and communities hold themselves to their goals and actions, and acknowledge the values and groups to which they are responsible.
    • BIPOC: A term referring to “Black and/or Indigenous People of Color.” 
    • Cultural Appropriation: Theft of cultural elements—including symbols, art, language, customs, etc.—for one’s own use, commodification, or profit, often without understanding, acknowledgment, or respect for its value in the original culture. 
    • Cultural Racism: Cultural racism refers to representations, messages, and stories conveying the idea that behaviors and values associated with white people or “whiteness” are automatically “better” or more “normal” than those associated with other racially defined groups.
    • Diversity: Diversity includes all the ways in which people differ, and it encompasses all the different characteristics that make one individual or group different from another. It is all-inclusive and recognizes everyone and every group as part of the diversity that should be valued. 
    • Ethnicity: A social construct that divides people into smaller social groups based on characteristics such as shared sense of group membership, values, behavioral patterns, language, political and economic interests, history, and ancestral geographical base.
    • Discrimination: The unequal treatment of members of various groups based on race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, physical ability, religion, and other categories.
    • Inclusion: Authentically bringing traditionally excluded individuals and/or groups into processes, activities, and decision/policymaking in a way that shares power.
    • Intersectionality: Exposing [one’s] multiple identities can help clarify the ways in which a person can simultaneously experience privilege and oppression. Intersectionality is simply a prism to see the interactive effects of various forms of discrimination and disempowerment.
    • Microaggression: The everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.
    • Prejudice: A pre-judgment or unjustifiable, and usually negative, attitude of one type of individual or group toward another group and its members. 
    • Privilege: Unearned social power accorded by the formal and informal institutions of society to ALL members of a dominant group (e.g. white privilege, male privilege, etc.)
    • Racial and Ethnical Identity: An individual’s awareness and experience of being a member of a racial and ethnic group; the racial and ethnic categories that an individual chooses to describe him or herself based on such factors as biological heritage, physical appearance, cultural affiliation, early socialization, and personal experience.
    • Racism: Racism involves one group having the power to carry out systematic discrimination through the institutional policies and practices of the society and by shaping the cultural beliefs and values that support those racist policies and practices.

No matter how well prepared you are, this experience is bound to bring up new questions and unfamiliar situations. We want you to know that the Verto team is here for you throughout this journey.

 

We are so excited for all the learning, growth, and adventures in store for you! 

 

Enrolled Verto Participants: If you have any questions or concerns at all, don’t hesitate to reach out to your Student Onboarding Advisor.

Prospective Verto Participants: Does it sound like a Verto experience abroad could be a good fit? We invite you to apply today so that you can start a conversation with your personal Admissions Counselor!

 

Enjoyed this article? Explore the rest of our Pre-Departure Guide series: check out the LGBTQIA+ and First-Generation College Students guides as well.