The majority (74%) of students of African descent studying abroad with SIT Study Abroad are going to programs in Brazil, Jamaica, and countries in Africa—what can be termed “diaspora destinations”. With such a high number of black students in these particular destinations, disappointing is the group dynamic that is reported on certain programs. This study aimed to explore the motivations of black students in choosing their programs, and the role of heritage-seeking in students’ interactions during the programs.

The formation of U.S. black identity is discussed along with ideas of the mythicized Africa. Surveys and interviews were conducted with alumni of African descent who had participated in SIT programs over a span of four semesters. This study found that while heritage-seeking per se may not have been the biggest influence on student motivations, U.S. based concepts of race, and perhaps racial identity stages, seemed to play a role in how students conceptualized and approached both the group and the host community. U.S. perceptions of appropriate discourse seemed to impact the ability to have productive race dialogue on programs, where silence was often the norm exactly when communication was so desperately needed.

However, despite strained relations within the group and harsh realities outside of the group, students of African descent reported huge gains from their experiences. Still, the study shows that better facilitation of discussion, team-building and understanding of racial identity stages is warranted. In light of certain theories discussed (namely Bennett’s Intercultural Sensitivity and Cross’ Nigrescence), it can be seen that addressing how heritage-seeking in general and identity “searches” in particular play out on study abroad programs is an important step in contributing to a student’s identity development and ability to engage “the other” in a humane way. And that is, after all, what study abroad is all about.


African American Studies | International and Comparative Education | Race and Ethnicity