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Heritage Seekers (going to ancestral homelands)

Many students choose to study abroad to learn more about their ancestry — these students are known as heritage seekers. The Institute of International Education has coined the term “heritage seeker” as a student who is drawn to study abroad in a particular country and culture “not because it is unfamiliar and new, but rather because it is somewhat familiar.”

The type of experience you will have abroad as a heritage seeker will be unique. Some students come home feeling very connected to their ancestral roots, while others return feeling more appreciative of their American roots. Either way, going abroad will give you a chance to learn more about your ancestral history and the culture today firsthand.

Going to your ancestral homeland can be a very emotional experience because you are choosing the location not just for the academics, but for personal reasons as well. Some students will be able to meet with relatives, while others will be connecting with their ancestral history or the language of their family through coursework.  Many students find that local community members have high expectations regarding the cultural knowledge and linguistic capabilities of heritage seeking students.

Heritage seekers, at times, have idealized views of their ancestral homes, so it is important to go into the country with an open mind.  You may be welcomed by the local community, but still considered an outsider.  Often in the U.S., people will ask about your ancestral background and someone will reply, “I’m Chinese and Thai.” or “ I’m Irish, French, and German.”, but abroad, you may likely be seen as an American.
Some Things to Consider:
  • How am I perceived in the US?
  • How will I be perceived in my destination country?
  • How should I react if I find something to be offensive?
  • How will it be if I become part of the majority abroad?
  • How will I handle it if relatives ask for money or other favors while I am there?
  • Will there be other heritage students in my program?
  • Will I be studying in the country my parents are from, perhaps not having ever been there before, and perhaps not speaking the language?
  • How might other parts of my identity affect my experience? 

Additional Resources

Tips for Heritage Seekers Traveling Abroad - DiversityAbroad
See 2 Georgetown student stories about heritage seeking abroad

7 Things that only Latino Travelers Understand - MatadorNetwork
Seeking your roots – A University of Texas studnets article about being a heritage student

Heritage, Culture, and Diaspora Seeker Resources – helpful resources compiled by UC Santa Cruz 

You may find more helpful resources in the Race and Ethnicity Abroad tab.

With these resources and some preparation, we hope we can help you build a rewarding study abroad experience into your college degree.  We encourage you to reach out to us and start exploring where and when you might study abroad.
Please feel free to contact us to set a study abroad advising appointment at the Center for Global Engagement.  We are advising in-person at CSI and virtually via Zoom.  See our contact info here: Advising Hours.