Heritage, Culture, and Diaspora Seekers

Living in California, we interact with diverse communities of people who have backgrounds from all around the world – and you may have origins from elsewhere, too! And, just as you find yourself here in California, there are other communities of people out there in the world who might share the same or similar origin as you, but who live in a different diasporic context. If you have the inclination to learn more about where you originate or want to connect with people across other diasporic communities, have you ever considered studying abroad or away as a unique opportunity to accomplish these goals? You could feed your curiosity about your origin or other diasporic communities by studying in places that you identify with because of your heritage, cultural, or diasporic connections.

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Choosing the Country Where You Can Seek Heritage, Culture, or Diaspora

Whether you identify as Native American, Indigenous or Pacific Islander, Black, African, African-American or Afro-Caribbean, Middle Eastern, South-East Asian or Asian, Latinx or Caribbean, White or European-American, or encompass many of these different identity markers, there is a home of origin and/or other diasporic communities out there that you can call home. Let’s take a look at some different examples. 

A student of Japanese descent can study in Japan to learn more about their country of origin. A Black, African, African-American, or Afro-Caribbean student could choose to go to one of the many different countries in Africa to get a sense of connection to the motherland, or to a Caribbean island or Latin American country to connect with diasporic communities that have long been in existence there, or even to countries in Europe where there has been an emergence of more recent diasporic communities. A Middle Eastern student could consider taking Middle Eastern Studies in Jordan. A Native American or Indigenous student can choose to connect with other Native peoples in countries all throughout the Americas or Oceania, for example. A student with Swedish parents can study in Sweden to connect with their home culture. A Latinx student can study in Latin American countries of their origin and reconnect with their roots. There are plenty of options and many different angles from which to approach this quest.  

While there are a variety of options to choose from, it is important to note that travel to all countries or regions in the world might not be available. In some cases, the country or region that is specific to your origin might not have UC study abroad or away program options. For example, a Nepalese student will find that currently, there are no UC study abroad or away program options in Nepal and a Belizean student will find that there are no UC study abroad or away programs in Belize. In this case, there are alternative plans of action to consider. If there are no options for programs in the country of your interest for heritage, culture or diaspora seeking, you could consider choosing another program that is offered in a country that has geographical, cultural, historical, or diasporic ties to this first choice country of yours. In this case, a Nepalese student could consider studying in India where the country is close in geographical proximity to Nepal, there is a large Nepalese diasporic community, and these countries share historical and cultural ties. A Belizean student could consider studying in Barbados, for similar reasons: it is close in proximity, is an Afro-Caribbean diasporic community, and the two countries, Belize and Barbados, share a similar culture and history. These are just some options to consider if the first choice country you want to connect with is not currently available as a UC study abroad or away program. Another consideration would be to look at Independent Programs program options that may have offerings in the specific country or region you are looking for. 

If you cannot find a program in a particular country or region you want to go to for heritage or diasporic-seeking purposes, you can consider making travel plans to go during your vacation or holidays while on study abroad or away. For example, we recently had a student of Chilean descent who originally wanted to study abroad or away in Bolivia, to live in the place where her mother grew up and reconnect with the family that she left there. However, there was no UC study abroad or away program option for Bolivia. So, this student decided to go to Chile, where her grandparents were originally from before having emigrated to Bolivia. During vacation between semesters under a year-long study abroad in Chile, she went to Bolivia for two weeks to meet her family for the first time. This was an experience made much more accessible due to studying in Chile rather than California. While she originally wanted to study abroad in Bolivia because that is where her mother is from, she found enriching experiences in choosing to study in Chile, because this is her place of origin before the initial migration happened. She was able to meet the family she has in Chile and together they were able to piece together their history. Going to Bolivia was accessible from Chile, allowing her to also visit and meet her family there, where the last of the missing pieces were put together. This is just one example of the many complex realities and possibilities that exist for heritage, culture, and diasporic seekers. So, if you are not able to go to your first-choice program or location, you can always consider another that is relative to your quest and go to visit that first-choice place during your vacations. 

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Considerations About Limited Access or Travel Restrictions to Particular Regions Within Another Country

It is also important to consider that even if the country in which you want to study for heritage, cultural, or diaspora seeking is available, access to the particular regions you might seek could be less accessible. Let’s use this same student as mentioned above for example. The program option for Chile is based in the city of Santiago, however, her family lives in Valparaíso, a city that is about two hours away. Though she went for heritage-seeking purposes and to connect with her family, the means by which she could do this was through the UCEAP Chilean Universities program based in Santiago, Chile. The main purpose of study abroad or away is to study and live in the place of the program. During the week she dedicated herself to her university studies, internship, and daily life in Santiago, while on the weekends she would travel by bus to visit her family. During long weekends, vacations, and when the study abroad program ended, she was free to visit as she pleased. 

In other cases, some places within the country might have travel restrictions. For example, let’s consider a student who studied in Mexico under a UCEAP Field Research in Mexico program that has restrictions from traveling to certain states or regions based on the U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory for Mexico. This person’s family is from Jalisco, which is a state listed on the Travel Advisory, and thus, she was unable to visit her family until the program ended. If she violated that restriction, she could have been expelled from the study abroad program. If a student wants to go to a particular region in a country, they should check first if the program has any travel restrictions, protocols, or guidelines to follow, and plan accordingly. They might have to wait until their program is over to make these personal travel plans. This is just a consideration to keep in mind. 

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Choosing a Program that Allows an Opportunity to Seek Your Heritage, Culture, or Diasporic Community 

Once you have settled on a country choice, next is to choose a program that will allow you the opportunity to connect with your heritage, culture, or diasporic community while fitting your academic needs. Some UC study abroad country options might have only one program to choose from, like the one in the Dominican Republic for example. In the case that the country that calls you to study abroad offers only one program option, consider whether or not it fits into your academic goals. If it does, then it’s match-made, meant to be, and you should go! If it doesn’t, you could consider looking at programs in other countries that might offer the same or similar opportunities while complementing your academic goals. Some countries might have multiple program options to choose from, like China. In the case that one country has many program options to choose from, you should consider which one fits your academic goals and will allow you the most access to heritage, culture, or diaspora communities. 

Let’s consider the student above who studied in Mexico, a country that offers multiple programs to choose from. She wanted a program that would allow her to culturally immerse herself into the realities of everyday Mexican life. Two of the program options she was interested in were the Field Research Program in Mexico and the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) program. Studying at UNAM (which is one of the best universities in all of Latin America), would have allowed her to take coursework in Spanish and live a middle-class life as an international university student in Mexico City. Under the Field Research program, she was able to design her own research question and project under the guidance of her mentors. She spent one month of language and cultural immersion in Mexico City with the other UC study abroad participants. She then spent the next four months in her field research site, where she spent half of her time in the city of Oaxaca renting an apartment with another researcher, and the other half of the time in her field research site located in a small pueblo in the mountains. This program allowed her the independence to live more of the everyday Mexican lifestyle she was searching for. If this is what you are looking for as a heritage, cultural, or diasporic seeker, these are some thoughts to consider. 

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Study Abroad or Away Snapshot for Heritage, Culture, and Diaspora Seekers

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Perspectives from Fellow Heritage, Culture, and Diaspora Seekers

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Last modified: Jun 07, 2024