Off-campus study affords students the opportunity to live in highly immersive environments, where learning can occur around the clock. Students can maximize their time by becoming familiar with the pedagogical models and learning environments that characterize off-campus study programs.

Intercultural Learning

Intercultural learning refers to the meta-learning that occurs on off-campus study programs as expressed in the preamble to Carleton’s OCS learning goals. Intercultural learning is woven into the structure of all programs through formal coursework, daily living, and co-curricular activities. Students can also take the initiative to incorporate its principles into their own self-directed learning.

Theoretical Frameworks

  • Intercultural Development is generally conceptualized as a continuum that goes from a mindset that denies the existence of cultural difference to one that skillfully bridges differences between people of diverse cultural backgrounds. Between the two ends, an individual can experience three other stages of development: polarization, minimization, and acceptance. This LinkedIn Learning Video explains the Intercultural Development Continuum (Carleton ID required). 
  • Experiential Learning is an intrinsic part of study abroad programs. It is conceptualized as a circular process of concrete experience, followed by observation and reflection leading to the formation of abstract concepts/analysis/conclusions which are then used to test a hypothesis in future situations.
  • Preparing to Study Abroad: Learning to Cross Cultures (Stylus, 2014) introduces cross-cultural engagement strategies and dimensions of culture to study abroad students.
  • Understand high and low cultures as a step toward developing cross-cultural intelligence through this LinkedIn Learning video (Carleton ID required).

Learning Activities

  • Beyond the Comfort Zone is an activity designed to help students prepare for intercultural learning opportunities abroad. See the facilitation guide and worksheet to learn more.
  • What’s Up With Culture contains interactive modules that help students plan for and understand their intercultural experiences.
  • Nigerian-born author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk explores the dangers of stereotyping others.
  • Italian/British/Norwegian cross-cultural trainer Pellegrino Riccardi’s TedX Talk explores how to communicate effectively across cultures.
  • Rough Translations, an NPR podcast, explores different answers to the simple yet intriguing question: How are the things we’re talking about being talked about somewhere else in the world? 

Campus Opportunities (post-program)

  • The Carleton Travel Writing Contest receives and judges creative nonfiction essays that explore intercultural learning through travel.
  • Carleton Cross-Cultural Studies courses, especially CCST 275: I’m a Stranger Here Myself and CCST 270: Creative Travel Writing, explore cross-cultural adjustment and creative expression. One or both are usually offered Winter Term. CCST 398: Cross-Cultural Panorama is a capstone CCST workshop where students create an ePortfolio that reflects, deepens, and narrates the various forms of cross-cultural experience they have had at Carleton
  • The Hyme Loss Award for Global Engagement recognizes global engagement at Carleton.

Direct Enrollment

General Advice

  • Education both reflects and shapes culture.
  • Behind different curricula and different methods of teaching there are culturally-driven assumptions.
  • Studying, analyzing, and understanding a system of education is an excellent way to understand the culture.
  • Experiencing and examining a social system of another country – such as education – is a skill transferable to other institutions in that society, such as the economy, health care, family patterns, etc.
  • Understanding the social and economic backgrounds of your fellow students and how your university fits within the framework of higher education in the host country will help you understand and integrate yourself into the local culture.

To prepare

  • Attend the orientation session(s) on site.
  • Study the academic catalog and become familiar with the university’s website.
  • Assess the length of classes and the amount of time spent daily in the classroom. 
  • Note specific vocabulary, especially if you are studying in another language.
  • Visit the library.
  • Find the location of your classes and/or take a campus tour.
  • Ask about and observe dress codes and classroom etiquette and requirements.
  • Study the history, structure, and organization of your university and your host country’s higher education system for another insight into the culture.
  • Observe and reflect on the teaching methods you experience in your classes.
  • Ask about evaluation and grading criteria, if these are not explained clearly.
  • Find out what kind of housing options are available and which ones are valued by local students.
  • Join extracurricular activities (sports clubs, music groups, etc.) offered at your university in order to get to know your peers.

Adapted from: Understanding the Education – And Through It the Culture – in Education Abroad by Linda A. Chisholm and Howard A. Berry


  • Presentation from OCS’s Pre-departure Meeting for Direct Enrollment Programs

Independent Research

General Advice

  • Choose a topic that you are interested in, motivated to complete, and that is appropriate in your program’s context. 
  • Get a sense of the literature, especially the work being done in your host country, so that your project can contribute to a larger conversation.
  • Determine what resources, if any, you should take with you (printed materials, interviewing equipment, computer, etc.) and practice with your recording equipment so that you are completely comfortable with it.
  • Develop a list of possible contacts and reach out to people for help and advice. Identify one or two primary contacts or advisers that can put you in touch with others. (Many programs will help you with this.)
  • Determine if you need IRB approval (required for research using human subjects that might be shared outside the immediate classroom setting) and apply for it before you leave campus.
  • If you think you might build on your OCS research for a comps project or a fellowship application, inform your program’s academic director. 
  • Be prepared to adapt to closed libraries, unavailable interviewees, bad weather, poor train and bus connections, etc.
  • Be open to the fact that information you receive in the field may contradict what you were led to understand through literature reviews and other preliminary research. Be prepared to address the discrepancies (if any) in your final paper.
  • Be prepared to make choices – your field research may be more extensive than a single paper can accommodate. You can use data or stories you collected in future projects.
  • Keep in touch with the people you met and/or hosted you. Send copies of your paper and/or thank you notes to interviewees and contacts in the field who participated in your project.

Ethical Engagement

All programs facilitate and encourage some form of engagement with local cultures and people. You may be offered the opportunity to live with a local family or have a local roommate. You will interact with local instructors, experts, and guides. Many programs promote volunteering, curate internships, assist in service-learning work or incorporate community and civic engagement directly in program’s academic coursework. These are excellent ways to take part in and get to know local cultures and contribute to the work of local organizations.

Engaging ethically with local communities is extremely important. Be sure to always follow guidance by the program and to review the resources in the Travel Planning section of our website. Regardless of which form of engagement you experience, follow these basic principles of ethical engagement:

  • Let go of stereotypes and expectations. Avoid exotifying, judging, or homogenizing local peoples and cultures. Get out of the American bubble. Be genuinely yourself and remain open to new experiences.
  • Make sure your collaborations are mutually beneficial and not exploitative. Ask, what do my local peers, hosts, and partners gain from this collaboration? Work in collaboration and be in community with others.
  • Work in collaboration and be in community with others.
  • Recognize others for the contributions they have made to your learning and work. Acknowledge how your work was facilitated by generous contributions of their time, information, wisdom and knowledge.
  • Tell the stories of the communities that you have lived and worked with, center their voices and experiences. Bring attention to peoples and issues whose stories and experiences are little known.
  • Be mindful of power structures. How do they play out in the contexts of your experience? Who is present and who is not? Whose voice is heard most? What kind of person is more visible, and why?Whose voice is less heard, silenced, or missing from the conversation, and why?
  • Seek to understand the value system, perspectives, priorities and interests of those who you work with and the inherent logic of the system they are operating in.
  • Listen intently–deep listening is one of the best tools you can use in any context but especially as you are navigating a new culture. Ask why and seek to understand the motivation and logic that informs people’s choices.
  • Understand your privilege – what enables you to do the things that you do, what gives you credibility, access and privileges denied to others?
  • Move toward being an authentic ally–don’t project your own world onto your host community. Listen well and try to understand where people are coming from. Recognize the work that’s already being done within the local community – aim for solidarity rather than charity.
  • Practice deep reflection. Reflect throughout your experience (not only when returning). Create change in your own culture’s systems upon returning home.
  • Be yourself and be patient. This is difficult! Expect to make many mistakes and seek to learn from your mistakes.

Adapted from a list by Amel Gorani, Former Carleton Center for Community and Civic Engagement Director


Photos, Videos, and Social Media

Taking photos and videos are great ways to document your experience and share it with others. When posting to social media, be mindful of the messages you are conveying about your host culture and only post content that is respectful. See the following resources for more guidelines:

Here are some LinkedIn Learning resources (Carleton ID required) you may find useful:

OCS is always soliciting photos and stories for our Instagram feed. You can submit a story idea with photos/videos plus captions to

Finally, pick your three best photos to submit to the annual OCS Photo Contest for a chance to win cash prizes.