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First Generation

As a first generation student, you have the incredible opportunity to be the first in your family to ever study abroad while in college! As the first person in your family to be presented with such a unique experience, you likely have many questions; the Global Learning Office staff is here to help you get the process started.

Questions to Ask

  • What are my reasons for studying abroad? What goals do I have?
  • How will my study abroad experience fit into my academic plan at Northwestern (major, minor, elective, or theme credit, etc ... )?
  • How will I use my study abroad experiences in the future, either personally, academically, professionally or otherwise?
  • How will I explain the process and my interest in studying abroad to family and friends?
    • How can I explain to my family and friends that a study abroad experience can contribute to achievement of my academic and career goals?
    • How can I let my family and friends know that it is safe to travel abroad?
    • How can I stay in touch with my friends and family while abroad?
  • What resources are available to me?
    • Since no one in my family has ever studied abroad, who can help me check to see that I am on the right track as I plan?
    • Is it okay if I schedule an extra appointment with my study abroad adviser if I'm not sure what to do?
    • How will I make studying abroad affordable?
    • Are there additional funding sources I can look into to help finance study abroad?

Benefits of Studying Abroad

Read about the benefits of studying abroad, as described by the Office of Fellowships, Northwestern Career Advancement, and the Office of Undergraduate Research on campus:

  • "A study abroad experience confers three primary benefits on future fellowships applicants. All three benefits distinguish these students in the eyes of selectors. First, they gain immediate experience with cultures and histories dissimilar to their own. This benefits manifests in broader and deeper thinking about the world and the people in it. Second, they typically strengthen their ability in a second (or third!) language. Selection committees universally admire language competence , even when that skill is not necessary for the award. Finally, our students learn how to live and work productively overseas. In an increasingly global world, demonstrating this skill can swing a position in a graduate school, internship or job toward our students."
    - Office of Fellowships

  • "It’s important to effectively market your study abroad experience to improve your future career prospects. Make sure that you begin your study abroad experience with the intention of developing skills (e.g. cross cultural competency, flexibility, initiative, language etc.), then be able to articulate and give specific examples of those skills that you used abroad. UCS Career Advisers can teach you how to highlight these skills on your resume, in internship and job interviews, and on graduate/professional school applications."
    - Northwestern Career Advancement

  • "The Study Abroad Office and the Office of Undergraduate Research can help you maximize your opportunities to explore the world. Many students study abroad, have amazing experiences, and want to return. Grant programs run through the Office of Undergraduate Research can provide just such an opportunity, by offering them a way to return to the country (or another one) exploring the topic of their choosing. This process works equally well in reverse, too. Students can go abroad on a grant, and then discover a study abroad program that will allow them a longer term experience. In either direction, these two offices work together to make your abroad time more meaningful and impactful."
    - Office of Undergraduate Research

Funding Opportunities

Look into these funding opportunities:

Discuss Your Study Abroad Plans

External Resources

Many third-party organizations offer additional support for students who identify as first-gen. We encourage you to explore these resources as you embark on your study abroad adventure.

  • Diversity Abroad (a leading international organization dedicated to providing support to diverse students, including first-gen students, as they seek international experiences)
  • I'm First (an online community featuring student blogs and video stories)
  • GoAbroad.com  (an in-depth resource of study abroad tips for first generation students who are interested in studying abroad)
  • IFSA Unpacked (blogs discussing study abroad experiences with diverse identities)
  • IES Abroad (blogs and stories from first-gen students studying abroad)
  • All Abroad (a resource for students, parents, faculty, and administrators interested in study abroad)

Student Experiences

Cindy Mei

WCAS 2021 | China: Political and Economic Development

I knew I wanted to study abroad at some point during college. For me, this time in my life is when I’m most able-bodied, most free and most enthusiastic about life, so studying abroad was definitely an experience I wanted to have in college.

My parents were wary of letting me go abroad because they are extremely protective of me. But they also knew that this was an experience they would’ve liked to have when they were young, so they were really understanding.

I was surprised by how quickly I acclimated to the lifestyle during my trip. I thought I would need more time to adjust to the language shock, the different food and maybe even the transportation system. I think it was because I put myself in a mindset where I told myself I’m just in a different city, it’s nothing drastic.

There are so many resources out there to help you study abroad! It isn’t difficult to do a quick Google search on travel tips, financial scholarships or application help. Most countries encourage American students to study in their country, so there are a lot of programs to choose from. If you are really dedicated to it, you can find a way to study abroad.

Cindy Mei in China Cindy Mei and Friends in China Building in China

Mari Gashaw

SESP 2021 | Berlin: Global City in the Center of Europe

I’m broke so I knew that if I ever wanted to see the world, I would have to do it through study abroad. I wanted to be able to attend a university that would support my desire to study abroad and Northwestern did.

Was it hard to get my family on board? Yes and no. My mom was really skeptical of me going so far away for such a long time. Fortunately, her brother lived in Berlin(where I went) so she felt a lot more comfortable knowing that there would be someone out there to help me if I needed it. I was surprised that I would actually love Berlin. I didn’t realize how much of myself I would learn about and discover.

To study abroad as a first-generation student, you are really going to have to advocate for yourself and just do it. A lot of people will say they are interested or curious about studying abroad, but don’t actually do it because they don’t know how. Take advantage of the GLO Ambassadors, the people in the office, and just take a risk. Reach out and ask for support and guidance because people want the best for us and it’s just a matter of making the choice to inquire and take action. I also think it’s important to highlight that you won’t necessarily connect or become friends with everyone in your program. And I would encourage you to look beyond the program for community. I barely related and felt connected to anyone in my program, so I built meaningful and long lasting relationships with locals. Don’t be afraid to go beyond Northwestern!

mari-gashaw-1 mari-gashaw-4 Students studying abroad in Berlin

Gabriela Czochara

WCAS 2021 | Spanish Language and Culture in Barcelona

I was definitely set on studying abroad going into college, I just didn’t think I’d start considering it so early into my four years at Northwestern. I have always wanted to (and still want to) experience and learn about other cultures and languages, and I knew college would be the ideal time to take advantage of opportunities to do so.

My mom was worried about me going abroad for six weeks because it is just the two of us, so she’s quite protective of me. Convincing her, however, was not as difficult as I was afraid it would be; I think she realized and understood what this trip would mean for me and the positive impact it would most likely make on my life.

What surprised me most while studying abroad was how eager I was to be more independent and willing to step out of my comfort zone. Even though attempting to speak a foreign language and interacting with native people of another country was stressful at first, I realized there was no better way to fully appreciate the culture and immerse myself than to just go for it and be open with those I met and with the unfamiliar customs I encountered.

There are so many resources! Reach out! When I first decided I wanted to study abroad, I started with one office and was continuously referred to other offices, people, scholarships, and websites that ended up answering all my questions and significantly helping me along the way. I am so grateful these resources are open to students and whoever is interested in studying abroad should definitely seek them out.

Gabriela Czochara in Spain Gabriela Czochara in Spain Gabriela Czochara in Spain

Alisa Nazaire

Medill 2019 | King's College: University of London, Journalism Residency in South Africa, and Berlin: Global City in the Center of Europe

Going into college, I figured that I would end up studying abroad, but I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to make it happen. No one in my immediate family had gone to college so I really had no idea what to expect. I just knew that I wanted to travel and would make it happen no matter what.

Was it hard to get my family on board? To be quite honest, I didn’t much give them a choice. I knew I wanted to study abroad from the moment I realized it was possible my first quarter here at Northwestern and I was determined to not let anything stop me from doing so. So it was less of getting my family on board and more like notifying them that they were already on it. I mean after I was already accepted and had gotten my financials in order all they could say when I told was “ok?”. I think I had more difficulty with coming to Northwestern than studying abroad!

The biggest surprise about my study abroad experience was that all of my problems didn’t magically disappear when I left the United States! I thought everything I hadn’t liked back in the U.S. would be left behind. I’d be a new and better me, with new and better surroundings. Turns out it was less about escaping my surroundings back at school and more about confronting myself. That process of coming to understand myself with no familiarity was powerful, needed and something I hadn’t come to understand my first year of college.

Everyone should know that studying abroad as first generation students belongs more to us than any other student on this campus. For many of us we have not visited a country unrelated to our nationality or ethnicity outside of the United States and Americanness. The whole point of studying abroad is to enrich our life experiences and for many of us this will be the first time we can do so in completely new locations. Take advantage of it, because this is for us.

For more of Alisa's experiences, read her Diversity Abroad blog post.

 Alisa Nazaire in Germany Alisa Nazaire and Friends Studying Abroad Alisa Nazaire in South Africa Alisa Nazaire in Germany

Marco Espino

WCAS 2020 | Madrid Internship

I did not know I would end up really studying abroad, however, it was a dream that I proposed to myself since high school. I did not know how serious and convenient the opportunity was until I researched and reached for it. Once I was a sophomore, visited the GLO office and completed the application, it sure became a closer reality that it would happen. Even when things seemed to go wrong, I was motivated to go away and made it a personal ambition to make it happen.

At first, my family wondered why I wanted to go so far to study. After I explained it would be covered by financial aid and is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, they were more accepting. It ultimately was my decision and once they saw how dedicated and excited I was to studying abroad, they supported and praised me for doing something different. I offered them comfort in the fact that we could communicate virtually and that it was a country where I’d know the language completely.

The biggest surprise about my study abroad experience was that I constantly found ways to anchor myself in Spain, even when I missed home. I often imagined that my time abroad was simply going to be harmoniously learning about a different culture and academic subjects; and it was, but in that time I also learned more about myself and my individual interests. Despite occasionally missing home and knowing my time in Madrid was temporary, I found myself wanting to live out a real life as an ordinary Spaniard. I became truly admirant of living there that part of me never wanted to leave.

As FGLI students, we are conditioned to feel that higher education is a privilege and that our primary objective is to earn a degree. However, we are often not reminded of how important it is to learn and develop our identities. If you feel that studying abroad is not for you because you cannot afford it, because you have commitments back at home, or because no one in your family or network encouraged you to, you should consider going away because every concern about it will eventually allay. You will have resources and guidance, friends and family support and overall a life changing experience that you will NEVER forget. You should be scared but only about not taking the risks in giving yourself time off to grow and succeed somewhere new.

Marco Espino in Madrid Marco Espino in Madrid Marco Espino in Spain Marco Espino in Madrid

Chloe Wong

WCAS 2021 | Public Health in Europe, GESI Vietnam, Hong Kong University of Science & Technology Exchange

I was determined to study abroad coming to college. The study abroad opportunities available at Northwestern (now through the Global Learning Office) was one of the reasons I chose to apply here in the first place. I knew that I wanted to go abroad, but I wasn’t exactly sure where. However, I knew that with the resources available, the multitude of programs, and the flexibility of the quarter system, it would definitely make my life easier when the time came to apply.

It was definitely harder to get my family on board for me to attend Northwestern versus studying abroad. Once I broke the “travel bubble” of going out-of-state, it was easier to convince my family when I wanted to study abroad. I also hope to work in global health in the future, so I made the case that it would be beneficial to my future career for me to gain global experience as well as exposure to lifestyles abroad.

The biggest surprise about my study abroad experience was how quickly I became acclimated to life abroad in Paris. It was really nice to take a break from campus life and live my own life in an urban setting. I was able to understand myself more by being in a foreign setting and taking the time to take care of myself and do things I loved!

To all of my fellow first-generation students: GO ABROAD and plan ahead! Take the initiative to speak to your academic, financial aid, and respective study abroad advisors or check out the website for a program. It never hurts to see a familiar face when you need information or application approval. I know how even the start of college can feel daunting, much less the entire study abroad application process. However, there are so many available resources and choices on this campus as well as people who want you to be successful in your ventures. Take advantage of these opportunities and see the world!

Chloe Wong in Paris Chloe Wong in Paris Chloe Wong in Paris chloe-wong-4