Your time participating in global engagement will be more enriching and enjoyable if you learn about yourself and your host culture(s) beforehand. Regardless of how much preparation you do ahead of time, you will still learn new things every day, but researching and preparing ahead of time will allow you to have a more enriching experience and to better manage some of the challenges that are inevitable in global engagement. There is no one person or source that can tell you all you need to know. Utilize a variety of resources including materials at the library, websites, past program participants, friends and faculty who have been to the destination(s), government information, and media.

Know Yourself

As you plan to live in a new culture, it is important to understand your own identity and to prepare yourself for how various aspects of your identity will shape your experiences. Living in a new culture, you may find that an aspect of your identity that is very important to you when at home or at Elon is not as relevant while you are away. Or, you may find that an aspect of your identity that seems to be less significant to you at home or at Elon is very important in how people in your host culture perceive you.

Just like at Elon, groups of people in every country and culture will have some beliefs, myths, stereotypes, and prejudices about different aspects of personal identity. It is important to remember that different beliefs and values are not a question of right or wrong. You will be a guest in your host culture(s), and it is not your role to change the culture or its values. Learning more about your own identity will help you function better within the host culture.

All aspects of your identity have the potential to be shaped, challenged, and strengthened. The information below has been developed to address aspects of identity that tend to have significant impacts on some students’ experiences away.

Racial and Ethnic Identity Abroad

Students will always interact with a culture that is very different from their own. Students will also interact with people who come from racial and ethnic backgrounds different from their own. No matter which group students identify with, all students should prepare themselves for attitudes on race and ethnicity in their host cultures. Students who are visiting an ancestral home should be especially prepared. Many heritage-seekers are surprised that local people identify them primarily as U.S. Americans. For instance, Irish-Americans who visit Ireland or African-Americans who visit Ghana may both be identified simply as ‘Americans.’ Elon students from international backgrounds who study away will have added dimensions to consider.

Some important questions for students to consider:

  • With which group or groups do I identify?
  • How are these groups viewed in my host culture?
  • What are the dominant racial and ethnic groups within my host culture?
  • What is the history of my host culture in regard to race and ethnicity?
  • How might the different facets of my identity interact with my host culture?

Information on race and ethnicity is available from a wide variety of sources. Students should consult the historical information on their host culture as well as the U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for an overview of prevailing attitudes in different countries. Students from underrepresented populations are encouraged to utilize the Center for Race, Ethnicity & Diversity Education (CREDE) and may also find the following links and sources helpful:

Sexual Orientation and Identity

It is important to consider what the local attitudes, beliefs, and laws are in your host culture in regard to LGBTQ issues. Some countries have much more liberal views than the U.S. on these issues and provide greater rights and legal protection to LGBTQ individuals. Other countries have more conservative views on sexual orientation and identity and provide little or no rights or legal protection to the LGBTQ community. In many countries being LGBTQ remains a crime and can result in harsh punishment. Two sources to consult on the status of LGBTQ rights and legal protection around the world are the U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and the OutRight Action International.

Some Important Questions for LGBTQ Students to Consider:

  • Do I plan to be out as LGBTQ while I am away?
  • Is it safe for me to be out in my host country and city?
  • Is identifying as LGBTQ legal in my host country?
  • Is identifying as LGBTQ culturally acceptable in my host culture?
  • Are there LGBTQ organizations at my host university or in my host city?
  • Do I have concerns about my housing situation?

The Rainbow Specific Interest Group of NAFSA: Association of International Educators provides resources on their website for LGBTQ students to help answer these and other questions. Do not hesitate to consult your advisor in the GEC if you have questions or concerns about LGBTQ issues abroad. You can also contact Elon’s Gender & LGBTQIA Center or Spectrum, the LGBTQ student organization at Elon. They may be able to put you in contact with other LGBTQ students from Elon who have studied in your host country or city.


Gender roles differ from culture to culture, and even within cultures. It is important for you to consider how you identify with your gender and how your gender may affect your experience in your host culture. This is important for both men and women, and is especially important if you identify as transgender or gender-queer. Your gender may affect how and with whom you are able to interact, how others perceive you, what you can wear, and where you can go. It may afford you greater or lesser privilege than you enjoy in the U.S. There may also be differences in how locals are treated based on gender and how foreigners are treated based on gender.

Some women from the U.S. are surprised by greater levels of equality of women and men in certain countries. Others struggle to integrate in a culture where women are expected to assume more traditional roles in the home. Men from the U.S. may be uncomfortable if they enjoy certain privileges in the host culture which women on their program do not.

Some important questions to consider about gender:

  • What are the dominant attitudes and perceptions about my gender in my host culture?
  • Will there be new or different expectations of me based on my gender?
  • What are the cultural norms about appropriate dress for my gender?
  • Are there any specific safety issues related to gender in my host culture?
  • Are housing and other facilities genderqueer and transgender-friendly?

In addition to researching information ahead of time, it is important to speak with and take cues from your local counterparts in the host culture. Observe and follow their behavior and dress when appropriate.


Countries all over the world have varying belief systems and expectations of religion. The religious practices and beliefs of your host culture may not be the same as your religious views. You may want to research the religion of your host culture and whether your faith is practiced in that region.

Some important questions to consider regarding religion:

  • Do I plan to practice my religion abroad?
  • Is my religion legal in my host country or city?
  • Is my religion culturally acceptable in my host country or city?
  • What religion or religions are the most prevalent in my host country or city?
  • Are there organizations for my religion in my host university or city?
  • Do I have concerns about my religion abroad?

If you are religious or actively practice a religion, you should consider getting involved with the host culture’s local resources. This is a great way to keep practicing and to meet new people. The Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life is a great resource for discussing your religious beliefs.

Students With Disabilities

Students with disabilities are encouraged to disclose their disabilities early in the process of planning a global experience. This will allow students sufficient time to investigate a number of options for programs that meet their academic interests and to explore the availability of accommodations prior to making a program selection.

It is important to remember that the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act are not enforced outside of the United States. It is the student’s responsibility to disclose any disability that requires accommodation and to make plans for their needs.

Accommodations that represent a fundamental alteration of the program or that create an undue hardship will not be provided. All decisions regarding accommodations will be made on a case-by-case basis. If accommodations are needed and not available at a particular site, then students may not be qualified to participate in that specific program.

If additional accommodation needs arise while the student is away, students must discuss these needs with Disabilities Resources and the study-away site to determine whether the additional accommodations are reasonable and appropriate.

If a student chooses to not disclose disability-related needs prior to arrival at their host institution, the Isabella Cannon Global Education Center (GEC), Disabilities Resources, and the host institution will determine if accommodations are possible. It may not be feasible to make arrangements for accommodations requested too close to the departure date or once on site. Visit the following links and sources for more information.

Know Your Host Culture

Take time to learn about your host culture. Even if you think you know everything you need to know, there is always more to learn. The better you prepare yourself for your time away, the more you will get out of the experience. The information below will introduce you to some of the topics you should explore and some of the resources you can use. You will take some of these items with you, but the recommended research below is best done before you depart.

A brief political summary about any country can be found in the CIA World Factbook.


It is generally a good idea to purchase a guidebook for the countries and/or cities where you will be traveling. Most guidebooks contain brief introductions to the history and culture of the location as well as practical information about day-to-day interactions. Some guidebooks are available in Belk Library, and you can find other books at most bookstores. Reading through a guide book ahead of time will help you to prepare for some of the daily experiences you will encounter and to understand some of the logistics of where you will be – transportation, daily schedules, meal times, currency, etc. Guidebooks that have been recommended by students include Fodor’s, Let’s Go GuidesLonely Planet Guides and Rough Guides.


Being informed about current events in your host country/ies and in the U.S. will benefit you greatly. Daily conversations with friends and hosts as well as discussions in classes will frequently revolve around current events in politics, the economy, sports, and other areas. Being knowledgeable about what is going on in your host culture ahead of time will enable you to participate more fully in conversations, in and out of class. Following the news also gives you great insight into what is important in a culture. As you follow the media, take note of what stories make the front page, how news is reported, and what topics are not covered at all.

Begin reading international newspapers or other news websites from your host culture ahead of departure. If you are not able to read news in the local language and an English-language media site is not available, look for news stories about the country in major English-language news sites such as the New York Times, BBC and CNN.

Language Preparation

If you will be studying in a non-English-speaking country, it is important to prepare yourself ahead of time. If you have not previously studied the language, consider buying a phrasebook and a translation dictionary from your host language into English and vice versa. You may be able to find programs for your handheld devices. Try to learn some basic phrases ahead of time: “hello,” “excuse me,” “please,” “thank you,” “do you speak English?” “how much does this cost,” etc. Even if you are not able to follow them, find radio programs or movies online that are in the language of your host country. Listening to them will help you to become familiar with the rhythm and intonations of the language, and it will not be as shocking to you when you arrive. Some students also choose to use online programs or language-learning software to acquire basic knowledge ahead of time.

Belk Library has a research guide for World Languages and Cultures, including a language learning resources guide.

Visit Elon’s El Centro de Español for information on Spanish-speaking countries and language.

If you have already studied the language, keep using it. Practice on your own, with friends, family, and faculty and staff that might speak the language. Listen to programs on the radio or watch movies or television shows in that language. If you will be studying entirely in the language while abroad, it is advisable to buy a monolingual dictionary in addition to a translation dictionary.