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My Identity Abroad

Considering Identity when traveling abroad

In today’s society, we have become more understanding of how personal histories and life experiences can differ between individuals, and how these can influence the way we understand, interpret and experience a situation.

These influencing factors are often referred to as a person’s “identity”.

When traveling within new cultures, our own identities can greatly influence the experiences we have when interacting with local communities and individuals.

With this in mind, our Kaya team decided it was important for us to look at issues of identity abroad to consider what we can do to help our responsible travelers prepare for their experience in a new culture.

As we explore new cultures, we should not be looking to judge how people in those locations think about, or treat, different identities. And it certainly is not possible for us to change the cultures of the host countries we visit – even when we perceive those as unfavorable within our own cultures.

At Kaya, we believe that by considering our own identities and educating ourselves about how we might be perceived abroad, we can arrive better prepared. In this way, we can have realistic expectations for how we may be received and treated, and consider how we will adjust to that.

This also allows us to consider our own behavior and attitudes in the local environment, enabling us to react more appropriately to the unfamiliar. By being better prepared, the differences we experience can be a little less surprising, and a little less personal, when we understand that this is considered typical and expected behavior in this location.

There are many elements of identity that can influence a person’s experience abroad. These can include:

  • Gender
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Body shape and physical features
  • Sexual identity and gender relationships
  • Nationality
  • Socio-economic status
  • Hierarchical structures
  • Religion

These are just some aspects of identity that we have considered, but there are many more that can also have an influence, including some very individual ones related to personal life experiences. Some of these might be of great influence in some locations, but less so in others. In more racially or religiously diverse places, issues relating to these aspects of identity may be less prominent than in locations that are very homogenous.

And as we consider culture and identity, we have to recognize that not all people with the same identity will have the same experiences. Some may consider subsets of that identity to be very different indeed! In exploring these, we recognize that we will need to make some generalizations to find some common viewpoints and practices for our participants.

For our Kaya program participants, we have developed a document we call “My Identity Abroad”. When you sign up for a Kaya program we will share an overview of identity issues within the country you are visiting, to enable you to consider aspects of your identity abroad and what you might expect to experience related to those on your visit. We encourage you to read about all aspects of identity, including those beyond your own, to help you understand the experiences of your fellow travelers and how their experience might be different from yours.

We also use “My Identity Abroad” to train our local staff to better understand what visiting participants may be experiencing so they can be more empathetic and supportive. We consider “My Identity Abroad” a living series. Not only do cultures evolve over time in relation to aspects of identity, but as more people contribute their experiences in these areas, we can build a more complete picture. We encourage you to reflect on and discuss these experiences during your time abroad. Provide us with your feedback to become a part of this great initiative that helps us all become more culturally aware global citizens – and set up Kaya participants for the best possible cultural experience.

To download our My Identity poster please click the image above.