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Learning About Your Host Country

Don't wait until you are overseas to learn about your host country. A little knowledge can go a long way in establishing good relations with your hosts. Should you bring a gift? If so, what's appropriate? How formal should you be with your hosts? What should you expect in terms of how to register for your classes? What are some major political issues facing the country? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you get off to a good start and will build your confidence.

Also, many students find themselves intimidated by the knowledge people from other countries have, not only about their own politics, history and culture, but also about U.S. American politics and culture. Feeling insecure, it's easy to shut yourself off from these conversations further preventing you from gaining the knowledge you seek! We are not suggesting you 'know everything,' but rather, prepare yourself with a few key pieces of information.
Here are a few suggestions for getting prepared. Of course, you can't do all these before you go. Select areas most interesting or most challenging to you. The more you know, the better.
  • Literature
    • Check out books, novels, short stories, poetry, etc. Learn about the major literary figures and their works.
    • Explore language readers and textbooks for cultural information.
    • Read non-fiction books on history, geography, politics, etc.
    • Seek out travel writing.
  • Films – Check out files from your host country on Netflix, the public library or any other source.   
  • Online Resources
  • Learn the language! If you don't know the language, try and learn some before you go. Get tapes, a tutor, take a class. People will be very appreciative of your attempts, and you will have a lot more fun and a richer experience if you can interact with people from the country.
  • Books to help you prepare - Travel Books: Many students say they lived by their travel guides, so get a complete and updated one.  Let’s Go, Lonely Planet, and the Rough Guide are good budget travel books with good background information on countries and world areas. There is also useful hostel/hotel information as well as must see sites. Europe on a Shoestring (Lonely Planet) is a great all- around guide with accurate, up-to-date information and advice.
I had many ideas about Mexico and my experience before I came, so I was a little thrown off when I was really here. For example, I expected I would be fluent in Spanish in one months time. That was just setting myself up for disaster. Also, the weather was something that totally threw me off. I imagined Mexico to be a big desert with beaches and piña coladas, but Mexico City is way up in the mountains; so its colder than New Orleans most of the time.
Portia Becker, Mexico City Fall

Basic things you should know before you go

It's strategic to have some basic facts about your host country at your fingertips. This helps you get into conversations and shows your respect for the culture. Take some time to investigate the following topics and use above resources or ask a person from your host country to help you find out the information:
  1. Names of political leaders
  2. Names of political parties
  3. Major religion(s)/spiritual beliefs and their effect on the host country
  4. Hot topics of the day (e.g., government scandals)
  5. Recent conflicts and the role of the U.S. in those conflicts
  6. Type of government
  7. Year of independence and circumstances
  8. Economic conditions
  9. Cultural diversity (immigration and refugee populations, etc.)
  10. U.S. role in local economy, politics and culture

Once you are there, talk to people and find out more about their country, concerns and culture.

Revised 11/28/2018