First-Generation Students in
Study Abroad Programs:

Challenges and Opportunities

In this article, we explore the specific hurdles that first-generation students may face in study abroad programs. It also emphasizes the importance of offering support and embracing an asset-based pedagogy to ensure their success in international educational environments.

In recent years, study abroad programs have witnessed a surge in popularity among college students eager to expand their horizons and cultivate a global perspective, contributing to greater diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in international education. These programs undoubtedly offer a wealth of advantages, from enhancing cultural awareness to fostering personal growth and academic enrichment. However, it’s essential to recognize that the journey of studying abroad is not without its distinctive set of challenges, particularly for first-generation college students. These students, often pioneers in their families in pursuit of higher education, grapple with financial constraints, lack of access to information, and cultural adjustment challenges that require special attention. However, by addressing these obstacles and providing tailored support to empower first-generation students, we can enable them to fully embrace the transformative potential of international education.

Challenges Faced by First-Generation Students in
Study Abroad Programs

1. Financial Barriers

One of the most significant challenges for first-generation students considering study abroad programs is financial constraints. A study found that financial constraints are a major deterrent for first-generation students seeking study abroad opportunities. It recommends that institutions and study abroad providers should actively seek funding sources and offer scholarships, grants, or low-cost alternatives to make these programs more accessible (VALERIE GARCIA AND LEAH MASON).

2. Lack of Information and Guidance

First-generation students often lack the familial guidance and knowledge about study abroad opportunities that their peers may have. They may be unaware of application processes, visa requirements, and cultural adjustments. To bridge this information gap, it is crucial to provide tailored pre-departure orientations and ongoing support throughout the program.

3. Cultural Adjustment

Cultural shock and adjustment can be more profound for first-generation students who have limited exposure to international experience (Ogden). These students may struggle to adapt to different customs, languages, and social norms. To help them overcome this challenge, study abroad programs can offer cultural sensitivity training and mentorship from experienced peers or staff members.

4. Academic Transition

First-generation students may encounter disparities in academic expectations and styles abroad. Adjusting to different grading systems, teaching methods, and coursework can be challenging. To support their academic success, educators should offer guidance on time management, study skills, and provide resources for academic assistance.

Strategies for Supporting First-Generation Students

1. Scholarships and Financial Aid

To address financial barriers, study abroad providers can actively seek funding opportunities and partnerships with organizations that offer scholarships and grants specifically for first-generation students. This financial support can make study abroad programs more accessible.

2. Comprehensive Pre-Departure Orientations

Provide thorough pre-departure orientations that cover essential information on visa requirements, cultural expectations, and academic preparations. The programs should incorporate cultural sensitivity training, mentorship from experienced peers or staff members, and opportunities for cultural immersion (Ogden).

3. Peer Support Systems

Establish peer mentorship programs that pair first-generation students with experienced peers who have previously participated in study abroad programs. These mentors can offer guidance and reassurance during the adjustment period.

4. Academic Resources

Ensure that academic support resources are readily available to first-generation students abroad. Offer tutoring services, study groups, and workshops on time management and effective study strategies.

5. Encourage Reflection and Self-Awareness

Incorporate reflective assignments into the study abroad curriculum. Encourage students to journal their experiences and engage in discussions about personal growth and cultural insights.

Empowering First-Generation Students for a Global Future

First-generation college students bring unique perspectives and strengths to study abroad programs. Targeted support and a focus on their assets can help first-generation college students overcome the specific challenges they may face. The opportunities for personal and academic growth that result from study abroad experiences are invaluable, and they contribute to a more diverse and globally aware generation of future leaders.


  • Ogden, A. C. (n.d.). The Impact of Education Abroad Participation on College Student Success Among First-Generation Students. The Journal of Higher Education.

  • VALERIE GARCIA AND LEAH MASON, E. (n.d.). Supporting First-Generation Students to Study Abroad. Retrieved from IIE:

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