Fostering Connection: Inside Kellogg’s Pre-MBA ‘Culture Camp’

Participants in Northwestern Kellogg’s pre-MBA “Culture Camp,” which was held in-person this year for the first time. The three-day August camp was designed to help integrate international students into the Kellogg MBA program by introducing them to their domestic colleagues, and to help those U.S. students better understand the diversity of cultures they will experience in the Kellogg MBA. Courtesy photos

Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management hosted an online pilot version of its Culture Camp program in July 2021, the goal being to foster meaningful connection between domestic and international students before starting their MBAs. It was successful, so much so that the Kellogg School’s leadership decided to try a live version once that became logistically possible.

This year, with coronavirus restrictions on travel receding, Kellogg’s Global Experience team ran the Culture Camp as an in-person weekend bootcamp. Forty-three students representing 15 nationalities participated in the three-day August program.

“Students took away an understanding of just how feasible it is to form rich connections, as long as they’re willing to step outside of their comfort zones and be intentional about doing it,” says Gabrielle Viard, Kellogg’s associate director of international student experience.


Mehak Priya: “You need to keep an open mind and really get to know the person to be able to understand where they’re coming from and what they’re trying to say.”

“It’s much better to make mistakes here in an open, educational environment rather than when there is more on the line,” says Deborah Kraus, Kellogg Culture Camp leader and the school’s senior director of global programs.

Kraus realized that Kellogg needed a way not only to integrate international students into the Kellogg MBA, but also to prepare their domestic colleagues for intentional and thoughtful ways to engage with their international peers. Foreign students make up a large portion of Kellogg’s population: While this year’s class stats haven’t been released yet, 36% of the Class of 2023 were from outside of the U.S.

Kraus believes that blending international and domestic students in the Culture Camp provides a way to gain new perspectives — a key skill to becoming successful, global leaders.

“You’re a better human when you’re aware of each others’ differences,” Kraus says. “Plus, it’s critical to being successful in terms of business; there’s no way you won’t be engaging with people from other cultures in your career. And we want to help students be really good at that.”

Students in this year’s Culture Camp hailed from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Egypt, Greece, India, Japan, the Netherlands, Peru, Russia, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the United States, with the latter making up a quarter of the turnout.


Zachary Prinz is one of these domestic students. He grew up in suburban Chicago and joined the camp to “expand his horizons.”

“I’ve only ever lived in the U.S.,” he says. “At Kellogg, I don’t just want to stick with the people who look like me. I want to make sure that I have a diverse group of friends and a diverse experience.”

“It’s very human when you come into a big, new experience to find people who look like you, talk like you, or come from your same background,” adds Viard. “That’s not a judgment; we all do it. But it’s an enriching experience to step outside of that norm and build relationships in different contexts and across cultures.”

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