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Why Study Abroad?

Northwestern encourages students in all of its undergraduate schools to study abroad. Study abroad is a crucial part of a well-rounded undergraduate education; take it from some important figures:

  • “The benefits of study abroad are almost endless. First of all, it's going to make you much more marketable here in the United States, because more and more companies are realizing that they need people with experiences around the world, who can speak different languages, who can transition easily into other cultures and people who bring to their jobs a sensibility and a sensitivity for other people. It will also make you more compassionate. We could always use more compassionate, young leaders out there in the world, people who are willing to step outside their comfort zones and be open to wiping away misconceptions. Especially for U.S. students, it's very hard to stay in your comfort zone when you're living in another country. When you're struggling with a language, new foods, learning directions, being forced to make friends and do things that you wouldn't normally do, that's going to set you up for a lifetime of value. It's going to make you a better parent. It's going to make you a better human being.” - First Lady Michelle Obama

  • [I]t is important for American students to learn other languages, experience foreign cultures, and develop a broad understanding of global issues." - Colin Powell

  • "Your actions here in Evanston can influence life in Eritrea; and what happens in India has implications for Illinois. [. . .] And in such a world, we need each and every individual to act as a global citizen." - Kofi Annan, speaking at Northwestern University's commencement, 2002

But why spend time studying in a foreign country when you worked so hard to get to Northwestern in the first place? This page explains some of the most important reasons that Northwestern views study abroad as a crucial part of a well-rounded undergraduate education.

To become a "Global Citizen" in today's interconnected world

Now, more than ever, our world is interconnected. To be successful — personally, intellectually, and professionally — you must become a "global citizen," skilled at interacting in and between multiple cultures and capable of analyzing issues on a global level.

As Colin Powell's statement above suggests, getting an international education — in other words, studying abroad — is one of the best ways for students to build global competence. 

The experience can help you:

  • Develop new perspectives on academic subjects and real-world issues
    Study abroad lets you study a variety of subjects in more depth and from different cultural perspectives. Outside the classroom, your personal education is enhanced through daily interactions in the foreign culture with host families or housemates and others in the community.
  • Achieve proficiency in a foreign language
    While you can learn grammar and vocabulary at Northwestern, it is impossible to become truly proficient in a foreign language without using it in a real-world setting. A non-English-speaking country is the ultimate "language classroom."
  • Experience personal growth
    Study abroad is a challenging adventure, academically and personally. Students who return from abroad consistently report that they developed a greater sense of independence and confidence in their capabilities.
  • Develop valuable career skills
    Students who study abroad often develop career skills that make them especially marketable, including:
    • Critical thinking and problem solving
    • Independence and self confidence
    • Teamwork and communication
    • Motivation and leadership
    • Flexibility and adaptability
    • Creativity
    • An expanded world view and multicultural perspective
    • Proficiency in a foreign language

To extend Northwestern studies

If you are approved to study abroad, you will remain enrolled at Northwestern. You are eligible to earn credit at Northwestern for coursework abroad and, in many cases, fulfill major, minor, or distribution requirements.  Students often take courses that build on work already completed at Northwestern, and some even do internships or independent research projects abroad. 

An increasing number of students have been conducting research abroad and then working with Northwestern faculty upon their return to Evanston to turn their projects into senior honors theses. For example, one student who studied in Chile wrote her thesis on the urban experiences of Mapuche in Santiago; another student who studied in Israel wrote his thesis on the media construction of Yasir Arafat as Israel's negotiating partner. In addition, a number of study abroad returnees have worked with Northwestern's Office of Fellowships to pursue fellowships for post-graduate study, either in their study abroad country, a different country, or in the U.S.

To take part in a life-changing experience

With proper planning and preparation, the study abroad experience can truly be life changing. Nationwide, students who have studied abroad consistently count their international experience as one of the best parts of their college careers. They report that they not only advanced academically but also acquired a renewed sense of intellectual energy and focus, as well as a more sophisticated view of the world around them.  

In all, for those students who undertake the challenge, living and studying abroad is one of the most exciting and enriching opportunities available at Northwestern.

Take it from Northwestern returnees:

  • "Study abroad was great in that it changed the way I view my home and my country. It brought a new sense of self, a new awareness of my American place in the world. I now know how to travel anywhere and be alone overseas. And in terms of my [Classics] major, it allowed me to see who the Greeks and Italians really were and how they are now." - Elizabeth Gabel, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Study Abroad in Greece
  • "It was probably the best experience of my life, and I wouldn't trade it for the world. I learned so much about myself, others, and the world around me. I can truly say that my experience there has changed me and my life goals in a way that staying at school would have never been able to do." - Jessica Tai, School of Education and Social Policy, Study Abroad in South Africa

Read about other Northwestern students’ study abroad experiences.