How To Handle Racism Abroad (With Grace)

Imagine this: you’ve just gotten off a flight and landed in a new country. You have your passport out, ready to show the officials at border patrol. They soon check it and you’re good to walk past the security gates. You’re anticipating an exciting new adventure, excited to face any and every opportunity, spontaneous decision and challenge that may come your way on this new journey. That is, until you hear someone make a comment about you, the way you look, or your nationality based on the passport you’re holding or perhaps even the color of your skin. So, now what?

Dealing with racism abroad is a challenge that any one of us can face while traveling or living abroad. In fact, those comments have probably been uttered to some of us at some point, with or without our knowledge, making us, unfortunately, experience that type of discrimination first hand. It certainly isn’t the best way to begin a trip and especially not a great first welcome or warranted first impression when settling into a new home. While it is difficult to be in that situation and you might find yourself wanting to shout back in disgust at anyone who makes a comment, here are some other ways we advise to think about when dealing with racism (and other forms of discrimination) abroad.

  1. Ignore it.

Difficult, and sometimes, potentially problematic, but this is one of the safest ways to deal with racism abroad. Sure, having to block what is being said or projected toward you is hard, but it prevents any dangerous encounters or negative situations to come out of it – especially if you’re somewhere new where you’re not completely sure of all the social customs of said place.

Remember: the people uttering these hateful messages don’t know you personally and have no business saying something that they have no idea to be true. A quote I try to live by every day: “If they don’t know you personally, don’t take it personally.”

  1. Confront it.

I advice this tip only if you feel like ignoring it would cause more harm than good. If you are going to confront anyone, it is extremely important that you’re either (1) aware of the implications already and are well-equipped to handle them, or (2) know that no matter what happens, you will be safe and not feel threatened any more than you were initially.

Confronting situations is a brave and empowering thing to do, because it makes the victim feel less like one. Shouting and talking back is easy to do, but it might be best to take a breather before confronting any situation, so that you can face the individual with a clear state of mind. Go with your gut and, if you feel comfortable doing so, speak your mind.

  1. Understand it.

Understanding where someone is coming from is important, no matter what the negative place their foundation may be. While racism is extreme prejudice and discrimination of a person based on societal implications and social constructions, it is necessary to understand the circumstances for why another person’s racial bias and prejudice exists in the first place.

Understanding their mindset and other external factors, like how a person was raised, what their personal environments were like and what they were taught, is crucial for effectively executing the next tip, which is the most important piece of advice I can give:

  1. Educate.

And that is educating. Education is really all we have, and as a student myself, I say this with absolute certainty. Hatred, racism, and other forms of discrimination and prejudice are all taught. Humans have learned behaviors, ways of thinking, and actions that affect their thoughts on people, places, and things they might not know anything about.

And so it’s up to us: people who have been at the forefront of oppression, people who have dealt with racism first hand and people who have experienced inequality in any, way, shape and form to educate the others around us who never have a chance to know better. We have the power to listen, learn and teach the generations before and after us. It starts with raising awareness, understanding the circumstances and using the knowledge we’ve gained for the common good, no matter who we’re faced with or where in the world we go next.


What other tips or advice can you offer if you’ve faced racism or other prejudice abroad? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

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Diana Figueroa

Diana Figueroa is a NYC native and graduate of Fordham University, where she graduated with a degree in Communications, concentrating in journalism and creative writing. She is currently pursuing freelance writing projects and recently launched her own website,, dedicated to her passion for travel and her life in the Big Apple. She is off to pursue her Master's degree in Berlin, Germany at the end of this year. You can find her on route to the next music festival or curing her wanderlust as she plans her next adventure abroad. Feel the fernweh at @dianadoesntknow for photos.

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