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Learning About Your Host Country

One of the most important things you can do is get to know your prospective host country. Learn as much as you can. If you've studied the language, literature, or history of your destination, you have a great start. If not, begin now by taking a course if you can. Alternatively, read not only travel guides, but also histories of the country you'll be going to or biographies of its prominent citizens. Read some classics or contemporary literature from your destination. Look for English language news sources from your host country on-line. See some of its most influential or recent films. Find a cookbook and try cooking the national dish! Research important health and safety considerations for your particular country by consulting the comprehensive CDC and U.S. Department of State resources. Anything you can do to familiarize yourself with the country you're about to become a part of will enhance your study abroad experience enormously.

Here are a few suggestions and resources for preparing. Of course, you cannot do all these before you go. Select areas that are the most interesting or most challenging to you. Be sure to carefully review the Health and Safety section of this website. The more you know, the better.

  • Literature
    • Read books, novels, short stories, poetry, etc. from your host country. 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.

     
  • Film - rent videos from the international section of your local public library.

  • Internet
     
  • Books to help you prepare
    • Paige, R. Michael et al., Maximizing Study Abroad: A Students' Guide to Strategies for Language and Culture Learning and Use. CARLA, University of Minnesota, 2004. This book will help you get the most from your experience abroad.
    • 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 background information on countries and world areas, as well as useful hostel/hotel information and must-see sites. Europe on a Shoestring (Lonely Planet) is a great all-around guide with accurate, up-to-date information and advice. 
     
  • Learn the language! If you do not know the language, learn some before you go. Get tapes or a tutor, or take a class. People will be very appreciative of your attempts, and you will have a much richer experience if you can interact with people from the country. There are also free language lessons on iTunes.

Basic things you should know before you go

It is important to have some basic facts and knowledge about your host country. This shows your respect for the culture and helps you to be able to engage in conversations. 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.

  • Names of political leaders
  • Names of political parties
  • Major religion(s)/spiritual beliefs and their effect on the host country
  • Current events
  • Recent conflicts and the role of the U.S. in those conflicts
  • Type of government
  • Year and circumstances of independence
  • Economic conditions
  • Cultural diversity (immigration and refugee populations, etc.)
  • 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.