Learning more about their ancestry and roots might be important to some students, and might be the main reason why they are considering studying abroad. These students are known as heritage seekers. The Institute of International Education coined the term “heritage seeker” as a student who feels drawn to study abroad in a particular country or culture “not because it is unfamiliar and new, but because it feels somewhat familiar.”

Read student's testimonials

Going to your ancestral homeland can be a very emotional experience because you are choosing that location based on strong personal reasons. In addition to the academic component of studying abroad, heritage seekers might have specific goals to connect with their heritage while abroad such as:

  • Learning about ancestral history, food, and language of their family.
  • Attending cultural festivities that relatives talked about while growing up.
  • Buying specific products that are traditional of that location or not found anywhere else.
  • Visiting specific places such as monuments and historic homes.
  • Visiting relatives or even meeting them for the first time.

While most of these goals will enhance your education abroad experience, there might be times you will feel the local community members have high expectations regarding your cultural knowledge and/or linguistic capabilities. Or how you viewed your ancestral heritage may not match your actual experience. So, going into that country with an open mind is crucial and will help you find a balance between being part of that community through your heritage, and your own heritage from living in the U.S.

These are some things to consider while you are planning your education abroad experience:

  • How do I think I will be perceived in that country/culture?
  • How do I think I will react, if I find something offensive for me, but acceptable in that country?
  • How will I handle it, if I am part of the majority abroad?
  • How will I handle it, if relatives ask for money or favors while I am there?
  • How will I balance my academics goals with my goals as a heritage seeker? For example, you may want to consider a program near your heritage location, because it might be a better fit for your academic goals, while still providing you access to explore and learn about your heritage.

Being a heritage seeker student will provide a unique and different experience to the experiences other students may have while studying abroad. Some of these experiences may help you return home feeling connected to your roots, and others might help you return home feeling more appreciative of your roots in the U.S. Either way, going abroad will give you a chance to learn more about your ancestry firsthand.

Start by doing some research based on the information above. To learn more about the education abroad process and programs offered at UWL, we encourage you to attend an Education Abroad 101 session, attend our Education Abroad Fair, and/or schedule an appointment with our office. We are here for you!

Resources

Diversity Abroad - Tips for Heritage Seekers 

Student's Testimonials

Ethan

Ethan

Hong Kong, China
Software Engineering
  • a Chinese-American student 

  • I am an adopted Chinese American. Being adopted when I was 3 years old, I have missed out on a culture that I would have grown up in. As I am pursuing a minor in Chinese Studies and I am Chinese, ironically it would make sense to experience the Chinese culture. I decided on Hong Kong as it is an international hub full of different cultures with English being a widely spoken language. What a perfect opportunity to have a taste of the Chinese culture without having to worry about speaking another language. It was quite heartwarming to feel like a part of the in-crowd as almost everyone I saw was similar to me. I am honored to have such an opportunity to experience such a starkly different environment. The fast-pace bustling rush, well-behaved people, major emphasis on transportation and technology, large variety of culturally diverse food, compactness and over crowdedness of Hong Kong are elements that I will not forget. I definitely can see myself in the future coming back for a visit. Studying abroad is an unforgettable experience that I recommend you should try at least once before leaving college! Have fun! 

Carmen

Carmen

Chile
Spanish & Communication
  • a Latina and white female student at UWL
  • I have always had a love for language and culture, especially growing up in a bi-lingual family. As I got older I lost touch with my Latina and Spanish side, as I took it for granted and drifted away from having several Spanish classes. When I arrived at UWL I knew I needed to re-boot my love for Spanish. I knew the best way to do it would be to immerse myself in a new and exciting country that I had no knowledge about. I know Chile was the best choice for me, because it pushed me out of my comfort zone. For example, I felt as though I was comfortable with Spanish vocabulary and slang; however, their unique dialect is different from other countries so I had many distinct words that I had to re-learn. I am so happy I was able to study abroad. I learned so much about my identity and other cultures. Overall I was able to get excited about Spanish again while gaining an urge to want to visit and explore more places.