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Learn About Your Destination

Engaging with your host community and culture is central to the study abroad experience and to the discoveries that you will make about yourself and your host country. But remember: the level and depth of interaction that you will have with the local culture will depend largely on your own initiative, and the process starts long before your arrival in your host country.

Having some knowledge about your host institution and country will make you better equipped to interact with your local environment in a substantive and meaningful way. Having a basic understanding of the history and geography of your host country as well as social, economic, and political systems will help you build relationships with local people and better understand the cultural dynamics you will experience. The more informed you are about the environment in which you will be living and studying, the more likely you will be to question assumptions or misconceptions you may have about the place and people, to understand and cope with differences between your expectations and the reality you experience (see cultural adjustment), and to represent yourself, Northwestern University, and the United States well.

Do your Research!

Take some time before you depart to set specific goals for yourself while you are abroad and plan how you might accomplish them. Begin by researching the basic history of your host country and/or city, as well as local politics and government, language, religion, holidays, traditional art and music, the economic system, customs and traditions, gender roles, recent hot topics and controversies, etc. Besides basic Internet searches, consider watching a movie from or about your host country, reading a novel or non-fiction work about the place you are visiting, reading articles from local newspapers online, and buying a travel guide that points out the major sights and attractions in the area where you will be living. 

Try to answer the following questions and find out how prepared you are! If you don’t know the answers, you may find them in a country guidebook, online, or in the country-specific materials given to you by your program.

The Basics

Daily Life

Questions for Your Study Abroad Program

The following questions may be program-specific. You can find the answers in the materials distributed by your program or by talking to other students about their experiences abroad.