Extra Support to Make Your Time Abroad Successful

Tips for Meeting Locals

While studying abroad you are going to make a TON of new friends, both from America and the rest of the world. For some people getting out to meet new people can be difficult so we wanted to give you some tips on how to meet locals in your host city. Yes, it is great to meet other US citizens while abroad but it is also very important to break out of that program bubble to meet locals and other international students. It’s not necessarily always going to feel natural or comfortable, but it’s completely worth it. Not only can they tell you about all the cool local spots and help you with your language skills, but they will also take your study abroad experience to a whole new depth.

1. Get to Know Students on your Program

Yes, we want you to get out to meet locals in your city, but first it’s important to get to know your roommates and other classmates on your program. Not only will they be a great support system and check in on you, but they will also be in the exact same boat as you. By making friends with those on your program first you can hold each other accountable and encourage one another to branch out and meet locals. Some ideas for getting to know the people on your program:

  • Be sure to attend any orientation session and/or social hour offered by your program the first few weeks you’re there.
  • Have a family dinner with your roommates the first night you arrive.
  • Plan a house grocery run in the first couple days after arriving. Navigating the grocery store can be made much less intimidating if you have someone else with you.
  • Plan a hang out night the first week after you arrive. Explore your new city, go out to dinner, play games, watch a movie, etc.

2. Join Clubs or Volunteer Organizations

Once you arrive in your host country be sure to ask your on-site advisor about school and community clubs and volunteer opportunities that will help you meet locals. These are a great way to get involved in your new community and meet some new friends in the process. You will likely share a common passion for a cause as well which could be a great relationship builder!

3. Sit Next to Local Students in Class

If you are enrolled in a class with local or international students do what you can to sit next to them. Something as simple as asking them the time could strike up a conversation and then your accent will likely peak their interest after that. We know it may not be the most comfortable thing to do but if you just stay in your comfort zone and sit with your fellow Americans you’re likely not going to meet the locals sitting right next to you.

Along with this, if you’re in a country that speaks a different language, look into getting a conversation partner. Not only will your language skills improve but you will also likely gain a new friend from it!

4. Talk to at Least One Local Whenever You're Out

Make it a goal to speak with at least one local anytime you’re out and about. Whether that’s striking up a conversation with the cashier as you’re checking out or chatting with someone about the weather, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. If you feel awkward, as you likely will, don’t give up! Other people will likely be just as interested in your culture and learning more about you.

5. Don't Be Afraid To Do Things On Your Own

Of course safety first, but once you get your bearings a bit don’t be afraid to go down to the local cafe by yourself for an afternoon and read a book as you sip your coffee, or go explore a new park where you know a lot of locals go. Being by yourself makes you much more approachable than when you’re in your hoard of students from the US, and you are much more likely to meet a local friend this way.



Meeting Locals: Alumni Suggestions

Check out this blog from Athena’s 3 time Alumna Bethany Tuttle on how she approached meeting locals while she was studying abroad:

Disability Resources

Many accommodations for disabilities that students are used to in the US are different or do not exist overseas. Additionally, the experience of being in a completely different cultural environment can be stressful. As a result, accommodations that you may not have needed at home may become necessary in an unfamiliar setting. You should anticipate and arrange for any disability accommodations at overseas sites well before your departure. Arranging disability accommodations once you are abroad will be more difficult and may not be possible.


It is very important to let Athena know about any physical disability and the requirements you may have well before your departure, so that accommodations can be made (if possible).

Physical Accommodations & Support

Students should keep in mind that things will be different abroad, including accommodations and attitudes toward persons with disabilities, and that there will be a period of adjustment to your new surroundings and culture. You can prepare yourself by seeking out as much information as possible prior to departure. For example, in many countries, accommodations for those in wheelchairs are not as common, and many apartments and other buildings may not have elevators. In addition, streets can be made of different material such as cobblestone or dirt, and apartment hallways and stairways can be ill-lit or circuitous.

Additional Resources

  • Mobility International
    A U.S.-based national non-profit organization. The mission of Mobility International USA (MIUSA) is to empower people with disabilities around the world through international exchange, information, technical assistance, and training, and to ensure the inclusion of people with disabilities in international exchange and development programs.
  • Disability Travel and Recreation Resources
    This site includes information about disability travel.



Emily Zelter – Florence, Italy Alumna

“Just a little bit of background on myself; I have Cerebral Palsy and use a walker to walk. When I was younger I needed a lot more assistance than I do now. When I was applying to colleges, my parents urged me to stay close to home, because they thought mobility would be a big issue for me. However, I was defiant. I was not going to let my mobility stop me from achieving my goals. Here I am today, back from a semester abroad that I will never forget.

Before I left for Italy, my self-esteem was low, and I felt like I needed to take on a new challenge that would rebuild my self-confidence. In Florence I did just that. I walked up more stairs that I would have ever imagined, I climbed all 463 steps to the top of the Duomo, and I built countless friendships that I know will last a lifetime. I know I have changed my way of thinking and my values in life because of this experience.”

Religion Abroad

You may want to learn about available resources for different religions, or find out the history of a particular religion in the country in which you are studying. The following is a list of websites that can help you in your quest for information:

  • Diversity Abroad – A great resource as you prepare to go abroad
  • – the state of religious freedom, country by country as seen by the United States Department of State
  • – Official website of the Baha’i faith
  •– Includes links to churches in other countries
  • – Includes links to churches in other countries
  • – Guide to Hindu organizations and resources worldwide, including temples and ashrams by country
  • – Information on mosques and prayer times around the world and basic information about Islam
  • – Contains information about Jewish resources, communities, and history in countries around the world


Please let us know if you have any special requirements to practice your religion, and we can inquire prior to the program start if any special arrangements can be made.

LGBTQ Resources

Studying abroad is an experience that stretches and changes you. There’s a certain discomfort that comes with any study abroad trip, but it’s still very important to take your comfort and safety into account when selecting a study abroad program. We at Athena strive to make sure all of our students are supported while abroad and this includes the LGBTQ+ community.

Being a part of the LGBTQ+ community and studying abroad can come with its own breed of challenges but that does not mean you shouldn’t do it. There are ways to prepare and ensure that you are in the right program before you go that will make your study abroad experience a success. To help you on this journey, we have compiled a list of resources:

Women Abroad

Women are the leading population studying abroad at the moment, which is great! It is important however to educate yourself on the cultural norms and practices of your study abroad location when it comes to views on gender roles and perceptions of women. Certain things that are okay here in the U.S. such as walking alone, eye contact with the opposite sex, or wardrobe, may not be seen the same way in your host country. Likewise, actions that are considered inappropriate in the U.S., such as catcalling or men staring, are acceptable in some countries, so it is important to inform yourself of these customs before arriving so you can know what to expect and learn the appropriate responses.

To help you in this preparation we have compiled a list of resources for women:

Diversity Abroad

At some point while studying overseas, all are bound to feel ‘othered’ or like an outsider. This feeling can be amplified if you already feel this here in the States. Learning how to cope with these reactions is important before you go abroad. Don’t just assume that everyone you interact with overseas has the same worldview as people do in the U.S. Depending on where you’re going, it is very possible that you are the first person they are meeting who shares your identity as – black, gay, Muslim, etc. It’s helpful to see this as an educational opportunity for both you and your local friend.


For more information on being diverse abroad, check out this article:

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