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Things to Know Before Traveling Abroad

Studying abroad can be a wonderful and enriching experience. It can be an opportunity to explore other cultures, experience new things, and meet new people. However, it is important to understand how your actions and worldviews could impact the people you are interacting with-- especially if you are traveling to a non-Western country. 

To help mitigate your negative impact on the people and communities you will be sharing with it is important that we have a grasp on some of the problematic concepts and attitudes that we might not know we are bringing with us. 

  • Poverty Porn: The way that images of poverty in other countries cause a sense of fascination and intrigue for Westerners. It is the way that the portrayal of non-Western countries often focuses on poverty and illness as opposed to aspects of development and success.
Although understanding the causes of poverty and suffering in your host country can be crucial to gaining an understanding of the social dynamics and inequalities in the place you are visiting, be wary of only focusing on those things. Remember that although there may be poverty in the places you are visiting, poverty is not the whole story.​

Poverty Porn for Donations

Read about how poverty porn empowers the wrong person

Observe the difference between fundraising videos
that exemplify poverty porn vs. videos that help empower the recipients of aid. 
  • White Savior Complex: The belief that white people can save the world from itself by having good intentions and being enthusiastic. It often makes itself known when white people travel to predominantly non-white places and believe they know the right way to "save" the people they are visiting.
    • It is important to realize that your purpose in your host country is not to save the people who live there. 
    • Read this blog post about the issues of Voluntourism

  • White Imaginative: the descriptions, assumptions, or thoughts about people of color that are based on stereotypes, and are often normalized and accepted as being the "truth."
    • Be wary of falling back on stereotypes you have heard about the people and places you will be traveling to. Try not to make generalizations about a group of people and instead get to know individual people. 
    • The Real Africa: Fight the Stereotype -- a photo series created by students at Ithaca College to help dispel misconceptions about Africa 
  • "Othered" Representations/Exoticism: The depiction of people in host countries as primitive and exotic. 
    • Just because people do not do things in the exact same way that you do does not make them "exotic." Be sure to appreciate the differences between cultures without ignoring similarities. 
  • Cultural Appropriation:  "The act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture." It can often be difficult to understand where the line is drawn between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. The following sources help to explain cultural appropriation and provide insight into the difference between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation
Cultural Appropriation

  • Consumerism: The idea that if you purchase material items in a culture this will lead to your full understanding of that culture.
    • Although the purchase of souvenirs can be a great way to help you remember your time abroad, it is crucial that you do not adopt the idea that your purchase will lead you to a full understanding of the meaning and culture behind that material good. 
    • Read this article to more fully understand the issues with consumerism abroad 
  • Social media can be a great way to share your journey and adventures with people back home. However, it is important to be aware of exactly what you are putting on social media when it comes to the representation of the place you are visiting and the people who live there. If you are considering posting any of the following types of images or captions on social media, it would be a good idea to re-think what you are doing and evaluate what kind of messages your post will send.

Are you...
  • Using children as photo props?

  • Highlighting things that are "exotic" or "primitive" that you deem "Instagram worthy"?

  • Only pointing out poverty when other development is around you?                                                                

  • Taking selfies of yourself "helping" a community?

white girl selfie

We anticipate that your study abroad experience will be transformative and thrilling! To make it even better, keep the issues above in mind, and make thoughtful choices that reflect the type of experience you are engaging in; for example, don't be afraid to document your adventures with pictures, just make sure you are considering the implications of your actions and if you are accurately representing the people you are connecting with - THINK before you POST! 

Study Abroad Blog Resources:

Goats and Soda
Goats and Soda is NPR's global health and development blog. We tell stories of life in our changing world, focusing on low- and middle-income countries. And we keep in mind that we're all neighbors in this global village.

Data & Technology:

Internet use and personal digital security while abroad are issues to consider. What is legal in one country on the web (gambling, gmail, downloading movies, music, etc.) may not be legal in another country. It is up to the visiting traveler to know these rules and how to follow them. Here are some useful resources for using the internet abroad: *Guilford College is not responsible for the content of these links and has not screened them for validity. Readers should be advised that there could be strong content or sensitive material within them. They have been included here because they may be a valuable resource for personal knowledge. Reader discretion is advised.