Culture and Identity Abroad

Student identity resources for study abroad participants

One of the most rewarding aspects of study abroad is the experience of being immersed in another culture.

First, what is culture? 

One possible definition among many is that culture is the set of basic life assumptions shared by a group of people. Some cultural differences are easily observed, such as what people eat, how they speak, and how they dress. But to really learn about another culture, you need to go deeper. Studying abroad provides you with the opportunity to be immersed in another culture to better understand its values.

There are numerous rewards from cultural immersion, including:

  • Increased self-reliance
  • Desirability in hiring and graduate school
  • Enhanced language and communication skills
  • Discovery of new priorities and interests
  • Reduced use of stereotypes and expanded world view

While these rewards make the study abroad experience worthwhile, they may come with unique challenges and opportunities, particularly regarding your identity. Your background and identity help shape your perspectives, and a key part of the study abroad experience is encountering and understanding new perspectives. At Purdue, we want students from all backgrounds to benefit from study abroad in ways that are meaningful to your identities and goals.

Continued learning

Before you travel, try to learn about the culture of the country you will visit.  While abroad, maintain an open mind about what you experience.  If something seems strange, try to understand it by discussing with your program leader or someone who understands your host country’s culture. Follow these best practices:

  • Research travel blogs, local news and topics of interest, well-known people, and the key history of your host country
  • Observe others, including how they speak and communicate nonverbally, and apply what you learn to your own behavior
  • Learn at least a little of the local language including key phrases and questions
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help; in fact, many people will delight in the opportunity to explain their culture and help a friendly visitor

Cultural adjustment is a process

“Culture shock” is a name given to the collection of feelings that sometimes arise when travelers are overwhelmed by cultural differences. The symptoms can include feeling lonely, homesick, overwhelmed, fearful, angry, confused, or judgmental.

We can’t prevent you from experiencing culture shock, but we can reassure you that culture shock has been overcome by thousands of Purdue students before you. Below are some resources that can help prepare you for your intercultural journey abroad:

Returning home is an intercultural experience, too

Many people find it challenging to return to campus from study abroad or other international experiences. See the section on re-entry and reverse culture shock on our Returned Students page for resources to manage this challenge.

Identity-based resources

If you want to discuss identity-related topics and studying abroad, you can always make an appointment with a Study Abroad Advisor. Our office staff will assist you by helping you choose an appropriate program, working closely with partners abroad to advocate for accommodations and support, and sharing relevant information through advising materials like the Savvy Student’s Guide. In addition, below are some resources you can use to prepare yourself for study abroad.


Accessibility is an important consideration for many students who want to live and study in another country successfully. While we cannot guarantee that all our programs can accommodate your needs, we will do our best to inform you of your options abroad and work with partners to advocate on your behalf. 

You may find the following resources useful: 

First-generation, veteran, and adult students

If you are an experienced adult student, have a family, are a veteran or military-connected, or are a first-generation college student, you will bring unique experiences to any study abroad program. You may also have particular concerns and needs that must be addressed in order to study abroad. We are happy to provide resources during the advising process, including how different programs might accommodate your needs. 

You may find the following resources useful: 

Gender and sexuality

Your gender identity and sexual orientation may impact your experience abroad, especially as expectations and levels of acceptance regarding gender and sexuality vary by country and region. We want to help you minimize negative interactions and maximize opportunities for your identity to be a positive component of your experience abroad. 

You may find the following resources useful: 

Mental health

Studying abroad can be mentally, physically, and emotionally demanding, and all student travelers can benefit from planning how they will manage each aspect of their health in an international and intercultural context. We encourage you to consider the resources, strategies, and types of study abroad experience that will best support your wellbeing. Before you study abroad, discuss any mental health concerns with your health care provider, and explore the resources below to be prepared for your journey abroad. 

You may find the following resources useful: 

Race, ethnicity, and national identity

Your race, ethnicity, and/or national identity may impact your study abroad experience in a variety of ways. We know that students of all backgrounds can and do have successful experiences abroad, and we want to help prepare you for how your identity might be perceived in different ways while living in another country. Explore the blogs below for students’ first-hand accounts, and if you are an international student or non-citizen, please see the relevant resources below. If you have questions or concerns about your residency status, please talk to a study abroad advisor. 

You may find the following resources useful: 

Religion and spirituality

If your religious or spiritual community is an important part of your life, you can seek out this community while studying abroad for added support. Your religion or spiritual beliefs may impact your experience living in another country, and the resources below can help you prepare by learning from other students’ experiences, as well as about country-specific information.   

You may find the following resources useful: