Program Design & Pedagogy for Teaching Abroad

Here are some suggestions for ensuring the successful program design and pedagogy of your course abroad.

Intercultural Competence (IC)

For the sake of simplicity and course abroad relevance, we define IC as the ease with which one adapts and adjusts to a culture, eventually being able to engage productively with its members.

Strategies to Enhance IC: Short-Term Programs


  • Learn about the host culture
  • Meet international students from there and with returnees who have studied there. Include discussions about stereotypes the host culture has of Americans and Americans have of the host culture, appropriate social engagement and expectations in relationships/dating, other cultural flags of which to be aware and sensitive.
  • Check out travel books to learn of sites of significance.
  • Watch films from the local culture to learn of history, behaviors, and cultural norms.
  • Surf the Web and read other sources for basic information on host politics, demographics, maps, religions, economic conditions, and be prepared to know the same about your home country.
  • Read online or library-based newspapers and listen to radio from the host culture.
  • Read literary books written about the host culture.
  • Know how you will tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty about the local culture and conditions and communication difficulties.
  • Prepare yourself to hear criticism, as well as compliments, of America and consider appropriate responses.


  • Interact with and make sense of the host culture.
  • Try to meet local people and engage in conversation and culturally-appropriate social activities with them.
  • Volunteer for an afternoon with a local organization.
  • Spend time with your host families, especially meal times and evenings.
  • Be prepared to ask guest lecturers and local tour guides a broad range of questions that help you understand and get involved with local culture.
  • Talk with other group members about your cross-cultural experiences, frustrations, and questions.
  • Keep a journal or blog about your experiences to record your impressions, descriptions, and reflections.

Upon Return

  • Continue to stay involved with the host culture.
  • Think about how this experience has affected your understanding of yourself, your country, and the world. Write it down and read these reflections periodically.
  • Get involved with 'International Illini,' the study abroad returnees organization, to keep your international interests alive and to share these interests with others.
  • Plan a reunion for your class.

Pre-Departure Self-Preparations

Many students write in their feedback forms that they wish they had prepared themselves better for their destination. For example, they would have planned in advance what sites they wanted to visit. 

SAO provides a self-orientation questionnaire to all applicants, as well as specific suggestions during the general pre-departure orientation, to help them guide their research and planning for the trip. Faculty Directors can also provide motivation to get students to do their own research on the area they are to visit, including appropriate dress, local laws, local mobility (which neighborhoods are safe), gender dynamics, youth/elder relationships, food and meal etiquette, and how to recognize signs of displeasure on the part of host country nationals.

Interest in Student Welfare

You should demonstrate interest in student welfare including, in particular, housing arrangements and cultural adjustment issues. Students can and do complain if they feel that the Faculty Director was not visible or accessible to handle basic life concerns they had.

Students with Disabilities

The University of Illinois has led the nation in providing access and services for students with disabilities. With planning, it is possible to accommodate these students throughout their course abroad experience. It is best to address the question of disabilities directly, as part of the introduction to your class. At the beginning of each course, preferably in the pre-departure stage, make a general announcement to students: "If you need accommodations for any sort of disability, please speak to me after class, make an appointment, or see me during office hours."

It is important to remember that disabilities include both physical and learning disabilities. When you meet with a student, explain the course requirements and ask them to clarify any special needs. It is preferable to be aware of student disabilities before departure to ensure that accommodations can be made.

Please feel free to consult with the Study Abroad Office regarding how disabilities may be accommodated abroad. For more information about teaching students with disabilities, please refer to Disability Resources & Education Services' Instructor FAQs.