If you are planning an international experience as way to investigate and learn about your family roots, you are considered a heritage seeker. Heritage seeking can be a very special type of study abroad experience, one that allows you to travel to a culture where you already feel a connection, but still give you a chance to grow and learn.
Study abroad was initially incorporated into U.S. higher education as an opportunity for students to learn about unfamiliar societies and strengthen one’s foreign language skills. Heritage seekers, however, are motivated to study abroad to learn more about what may already be familiar. In other words, they hope to explore their family background, whether from a national, religious, cultural, or ethnic perspective (Szekely, 1998).
Heritage seeking can be a complex journey. In some cases, the connections heritage seekers feel to the host community may give them a new sense of belonging, but in others, cultural differences and national identity may lead to them being perceived as outsiders. No matter how the process unfolds, many heritage seekers return from their experience abroad with a new understanding of their own identity and background.
Things to Consider
Review these tips and questions as you plan your experience.
How will you be perceived in the host country?
Do you speak the local language and/or have knowledge of the local culture?
How can I reconcile the differences between the customs and culture that I am experiencing in my host/home country with the ones that I was raised with?
Am I used to being part of the minority at home? What is like to be a part of the majority now that I’m abroad?
How should I react if a local person expects more of me (e.g., culturally, behaviorally, linguistically, etc.) than other students who don’t share the same cultural or ethnic heritage?
How should I react if I find something to be offensive? How should I react if someone generalizes or incorrectly identifies my ethnicity?
Review these useful resources for details about being a heritage seeker abroad and how you can prepare yourself for your experience.