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Culture and Diversity

culture diversity

As you plan to experience a new culture, it is important to understand your own identity and to prepare yourself for how various aspects of your identity will impact your experiences. Living in a new culture, you may find that an aspect of your identity that is very important to you when at home or at Otis College is not as relevant while you are abroad. You may also find that an aspect of your identity that seems to be less significant to you is very important in how people in your host culture perceive you.
As in the US, groups of people in every country and culture will have some beliefs, myths, stereotypes, and prejudices about different aspects of personal identity. It is important to remember that different beliefs and values are not a question of right or wrong. You will be a guest in your host culture(s), and it is not your role to change the culture or its values. Learning more about your own identity will help you function better within the host culture.

All aspects of your identity have the potential to be impacted, challenged, and possibly strengthened. Otis College of Art and Design is committed to maintaining a positive learning, working, and living environment. Gender-based discrimination against or by any student or staff will not be tolerated. However, cultural norms related to gender and sexuality vary greatly from country to country. What is perceived as a behavioral norm in the United States can become an issue of concern or safety depending upon the country of destination. Therefore, taking time to research and understand the host country’s social and gender norms will help the students make informed choices about appropriate social behavior and dress codes, etc. The information below has been developed to address aspects of identity that tend to have significant impacts on some students’ experiences away.
Sexual Orientation and Identity
If you identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, it is very important to consider what the local attitudes, beliefs, and laws are in your host culture in regards to LGBTQ issues. Some countries have much more liberal views than the U.S. on these issues and provide greater rights and legal protection to LGBTQ individuals. Other countries have more conservative views on sexual orientation and identity and provide little or no rights or legal protection to the LGBTQ community. In many countries homosexuality remains a crime and can result in harsh punishment. Two sources to consult on the status of LGBTQ rights and legal protection around the world are the U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

Some Important Questions for LGBTQ Students to Consider:
  • Do I plan to be out as LGBTQ while I am away? Being ‘out’ is a personal and often difficult experience. When going abroad, there are locations and programs where being out might not be the safest idea for a student. These locations change often and can depend on many factors, so they are not listed here. The links in the Resources section below contain updated information by location. 
  • Is it safe for me to be out in my host country and city?
  • Is homosexuality legal in my host country?
  • Is identifying as LGBTQ culturally acceptable in my host culture?
  • Are there LGBTQ organizations at my host university or in my host city?

The Rainbow Specific Interest Group of NAFSA: Association of International Educators provides resources on their website for LGBTQ students to help answer these and other questions.
If you need any assistance with those considerations or any additional ones, please don’t hesitate to visit or email ( the Travel and External Study office.
Gender roles differ from culture to culture, and even within cultures. It is important for you to consider how you identify with your gender and how your gender may impact your experience in your host culture. This is important for both men and women, and is especially important if you identify as transgender or gender-queer. Your gender may impact how and with whom you are able to interact, how others perceive you, what you can wear, and where you can go. It may afford you greater or lesser privilege than you enjoy in the U.S. There may also be differences in how locals are treated based on gender and how foreigners are treated based on gender.
Some women from the U.S. are surprised by greater levels of equality of women and men in certain countries. Others struggle to integrate in a culture where women are expected to assume more traditional roles in the home. Men from the U.S. may be uncomfortable if they enjoy certain privileges in the host culture which women on their program do not.
Some important questions to consider about gender:
  • What are the dominant attitudes and perceptions about my gender in my host culture?
  • Will there be new or different expectations of me based on my gender?
  • What are the cultural norms about appropriate dress for my gender?
  • Are there any specific safety issues related to gender in my host culture?
  • Are housing and other facilities genderqueer and transgender-friendly?
  • Do I have concerns about my housing situation? If you’re participating in a Travel Study course where the group is staying at a hotel, what kind of rooming situation would you feel comfortable with?
  • Would I prefer to use queer and trans-friendly health care providers at your destination if needed? If so, it is recommended to research their location in advance.
  • What should I do if the gender on my travel documents is different?
  • If needed, will I have access to gender neutral bathrooms, and if not, which bathroom will I be using?
In addition to researching information ahead of time, it is important to speak with and take cues from your local counterparts in the host culture. Observe and follow their behavior and dress when appropriate.
LGBTQIA Resource Center
an interactive map where each country is profiled by the laws impacting their LGBTQ+ communities, local organizations providing LGBTQIA advocacy or support, multimedia resources about LGBTQ+ identities in the region, and LGBTQIA events.
U.S. Department of State, LGBTI Travel Information
Diversity at Otis College
Study Abroad handbook
Students will always interact with a culture that is very different from their own. Students will also interact with people who come from racial and ethnic backgrounds different from their own. No matter which group students identify with, all students should prepare themselves for attitudes on race and ethnicity in their host cultures. Students who are visiting an ancestral home should be especially prepared. Many heritage-seekers are surprised that local people identify them primarily as U.S. Americans. For instance, Irish-Americans who visit Ireland or African-Americans who visit Ghana may both be identified simply as ‘Americans.’ Otis College students from international backgrounds who study away will have added dimensions to consider.

Some important questions for students to consider:
  • With which group or groups do I identify?
  • How are these groups viewed in my host culture?
  • What are the dominant racial and ethnic groups within my host culture?
  • What is the history of my host culture in regard to race and ethnicity?
  • How might the different facets of my identity interact with my host culture?

Information on race and ethnicity is available from a wide variety of sources. Students should consult the historical information on their host culture as well as the U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for an overview of prevailing attitudes in different countries. Students from underrepresented populations may find the following links and sources helpful: