Prepare to Go Abroad

Make the Most of Studying Abroad!

Pathways for Developing Global Competence

As you prepare yourself for studying abroad, it is important that you take time to learn about the culture, history, customs, and language of the country where you will soon be living and studying.   While it is vital that you have a good understanding of all the logistical aspects of your upcoming trip and understand issues relating to housing and registration for the semester that you return to UConn (all to be discussed in this guidebook), it is also important to start developing your global competence.  Study Abroad provides you with a rich opportunity to learn conceptual and practical skills that will further your awareness of critical global issues.

Global Competence is defined in many ways, including “the ability to relate successfully with people from other cultures and to see the world from others’ perspectives.” It also encompasses being able to work effectively in different international settings, to have an awareness of the major currents of global change, to have the capacity for communication across cultural and linguistic boundaries, and an understanding of global interconnections.  Finally, global competence leads to new understanding of one’s own culture and respect of cultural difference with the goal of finding common cultural discourses.

Becoming Global Citizens: Take Action

Globalization requires all of us to gain new skills, new attitudes, and new responsibilities as expanding technologies bring us closer together. During the last ten years, campuses across the country have integrated global plans, global courses, and study abroad into the curriculum in order to meet the economic, social, and technological challenges of the twenty-first century.  The American Association of Colleges and Universities has been in the forefront, sponsoring initiatives that promote global learning as the pathway through which students become prepared to fulfill the responsibility of living in an increasingly interconnected world.  Their work “is based upon the assumption that we live in an interdependent but unequal world and that higher education can help prepare students not only to thrive in such a world, but to remedy its inequities” (

Study abroad is a key component in this process of global learning, moving academics from the university classroom to sites around the world and back again.  Ideally, students return with new self-awareness and with the desire to become socially and politically involved in local issues, as well as global ones.  We hope that you will be become engaged global citizens through your cross-cultural experiences, by academic study that gives you tools to think critically about global challenges, and by your active participation and commitment to making a difference in your community.

What You Can Do Now

How do you begin becoming more culturally sensitive and informed? R. Michael Paige and Andrew Cohen from the University of Minnesota have written extensively on why it is important to learn as much as possible about the culture you are visiting before you go abroad.  In Maximizing Study Abroad (University of Minnesota, 2006) they write the following:

“Some of you may be so ready to study abroad that you want to jump in right now and get going.  We agree that getting involved and participating is essential.  We also know that there are numerous examples of “ugly travelers” (and not just Americans) whose lack of cultural sensitivity makes them instantly recognizable in an unpleasant sort of way and, moreover, reflects a lack of respect for their hosts.  Why not try to break the mold, taking time to think about how you are going to interact and spending a little time learning from those who have travelled before?  With a few extra minutes of preparation, you can assure yourself that you are doing all you can to make this the most amazing and meaningful journey of your life (p.2).”

Learn about your Host Country

As a way to prepare yourself for your study abroad experience, learn about the culture of your host country before you leave.  In addition to selecting a program, here are some ways to begin:

  • Talk to returnees from the program
  • Choose courses that teach you about the history, politics, art, religion, customs, and language of the host country
  • Read foreign newspapers and journals and listen to foreign newscasts online. By the time you get there, you should understand the basics of the country’s political system and be up to date about important current events and social issues
  • Ask faculty, returned study abroad students and international students to suggest books, articles, films, and music from the country. Focus on contemporary history, fictions, and books that deal with contemporary social issues
  • Look at tour books for a wealth of information about everything from currency and shopping to museums and historic sites. You can download a lot of information, but sometimes it is nice to have a book in hand
  • The US State Department and similar government agencies offer important information on safety, health, and other relevant issues through their websites. It is wise to consult the websites of the World Health Organization and/or the Center for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Read Maximizing Study Abroad and other books that deal with cultural learning strategies and how to make the most of your experience (see reference section)

Learn more about the United States

As you begin to think globally and gain a rich understanding of your host country, do not neglect to expand your understanding of American history and politics.  Often, nationals of other countries know more about American history, current events, and politics than many Americans, so the more you know about these topics the better.  In order to have meaningful dialogue with people in your host country and with students from around the world, try to be informed and up-to-date about your own culture!

Take Time to Define Your Personal Goals and Learning Styles

Take time to think about and write down your personal goals for your trip.  What do you hope to accomplish?  Read the first section of Maximizing Study Abroad (2006: 4 – 76) for input about how to access your own learning styles and your level of comfort with cultural difference and new environments.  Consider new strategies for enhancing your cultural learning!