International Studies & Programs

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FSA Academics

First-year Seminars Abroad and Away are designed to provide you with an introductory first-year experience that combines the academic engagement characteristic of first-year seminars and the cultural and experiential learning characteristic of education abroad and away.

These seminars are specifically designed to advance your understanding of the world in support of MSU’s undergraduate learning goals and the following course-specific goals:

  • introduce students to scholarly and academic life at MSU;
  • expose students to education abroad, global and cultural learning, and a content area;
  • help students develop a meaningful relationship with peers, faculty, and staff to support their personal and academic success; and
  • help students gain confidence and skills related to their college transition.

Through your program, you will earn four credits for UGS 102 and UGS 105 and receive a numeric (4.0-scale) grade for your work.

Credit in UGS 102 and 105 counts toward your graduation requirement of having 120 credits and will contribute to your GPA.

Integrative Studies Substitutions


Courses for First-Year Seminars Abroad and Away are approved as substitutions for specific university requirements called Integrative Studies.  These courses are part of the broader general education requirements at Michigan State University that all students must fulfill in the Arts & Humanities, General Sciences, and Social Sciences.

Students can have UGS 102/105 substituted for one, approved Integrative Studies course depending on what is approved for their track.  Approvals can include the following requirements:

  • 200-level ISS;
  • IAH B (second-tier), 211 or higher and
  • ISB course.

Once approved by the Integrative Studies Directors, specific Integrative Studies substitutions will be listed on the seminar’s webpage under the “description” tab for each track and on the FSA Integrative Studies Substitutions PDF. In addition to Integrative Studies requirements, some tracks may count toward MSU specializations.

NOTE: Some students may not need the Integrative Studies substitution if they are bringing in Advanced Placement (AP) or Dual Enrollment credits from high school that count as Integrative Studies credit.


STEP ONE: During New Student Orientation (NSO) or early fall semester, talk with your academic adviser about how you want to use the UGS credit. It’s imperative you let your adviser know which integrative studies option you wish to select to ensure you don't enroll for a class you do not need to take* and in some cases, because your track might offer multiple options for a substitution.

STEP TWO: Follow the directions you are given at orientation, and via MSU email in order to submit your substitution choice. The deadline for making your choice is December 1st of your first fall semester.

Once you submit your request in D2L, MSU staff will make a notation in your Electronic Student Academic Folder (ESAF) that says "UGS 102/105 course will count as XXX course." They will also enter a waiver in MSU's Student Information System (SIS) that allows you to use the three-credit course to count toward a four-credit integrative studies class. You DO NOT need to make that credit up elsewhere.  Also, please be aware that UGS 102/105 will not turn into the other course on your transcript; it will always show as UGS 102/105.

*NOTE: Certain majors use alternative courses to fulfill integrative studies. For example:

  • Science majors do not take ISP or ISB and take courses in biology, chemistry, etc. instead.
  • James Madison students take classes in their major that substitute for both their ISS requirements.
  • RCAH students take classes in their major that substitute for both their IAH requirements.
  • Honors and Academic Scholars typically take higher level classes and do not take the ISS, IAH, or ISB. Honors students who want the FSA to fulfill a requirement must complete additional work to receive an Honors Option for the seminar.

Always consult with your academic adviser about the best substitution. 

General Program Format

Each year, MSU offers programs in 6–8 different international locations. Most programs have two sections of UGS 102/105 associated with them. Each section has a unique globally-connected theme, and while participating on the program, students will engage in discussions, readings and activities; complete assignments; and be evaluated on work associated with their section and theme. Enrollment in these sections - as in the program itself - is on a first-come, first-served basis with effort made to give students their first preference.

To enhance instructor-student interaction, programs and sections are kept small. Typically, a location with two sections will have 12–15 students per section, each taught by a faculty member (meaning about 30 students per program with two faculty and a staff person). This small-group environment allows for each instructor to work closely with his/her students, develop meaningful relationships amongst the group, and focus on helping students engage with the host location.

Although most in-class, and some out-of-class, activities are unique to a section, many activities and some classes might be done as a full group (i.e., all 20–30 students on the program). All program students—regardless of section—will participate in the same major activities and field experiences together. Instructors work together to ensure that both sections’ content aligns with these combined activities and ensure that all students receive a similar experience, just emphasizing a different topic.

In addition to the time spent abroad, all students participate in pre-departure online work, campus orientation sessions (about two days), and post-travel re-entry sessions (at least two of them) when they return to campus during the fall semester. The UGS 102/105 class officially ends in late-October (see post-program activities below).

Though knowledge of the respective foreign language is not a requirement for participation in seminars abroad in non-English speaking countries, students will learn linguistic and cultural strategies for coping in non-English-speaking environments and learn about the importance of language to the national culture and identity.

Post-program activities

After the program concludes in late summer, students will have at least two required meetings in September and October prior to grades being due late-October. Some programs and sections may have more work or more meetings in the fall than others. Generally, students will participate in at least the following two activities:

Unpacking Your First-Year Seminar workshop: ­This program is offered by the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education and focuses on helping students connect their education abroad or away experience with their personal and professional life.

Final class meeting: ­This session is a mandatory meeting to follow up on the program academics and includes the program students and faculty members. Activities can range from having dinner, giving presentations, doing reunion-type activities, or taking final exams.

In addition to these mandatory sessions, students will have the opportunity to engage in many other global and cultural events on campus. In the past, program teams have organized meals, movie nights, social activities, and seminars around their interests.

Students will receive the dates, times, and specific expectations from their instructors during pre-departure orientation. Students should check the course description on the schedule of courses, review their syllabus, and/or consult with their faculty members for more details.