How Much Do You Know About Your Host Country?
Learning more about your study abroad destination is essential to maximizing your time abroad. Becoming more familiar with your host country will reduce the cultural adjustment phase and enrich your study abroad experience.
The following websites may be useful in identifying answers to the questions below. The list is not comprehensive, but is simply a guide that may spark greater interest in a particular subject.
- CIA World Factbook
- National Geographic Places
- BBC World News
- Lonely Planet
- University of Texas at Austin Map Library
Do you know the following about your host country? If not, this is a good starting place for you to learn about important social, historical and cultural differences between the U.S. and your study abroad location.
You can download the following list of questions.
History & People
- What are the major historical events that have defined the nation?
- What are the basic demographics (race, ethnicity, ages, etc) of the country?
- Can you name any prominent people in politics, athletics, and the arts from your host country?
- Who are the country's national heroes and heroines?
- Can you recognize the national anthem?
- What are the important holidays and how is each observed?
Culture & Religion
- Are other languages spoken besides the dominant language? What are the social and political implications of language usage?
- What is the predominant religion? Is it a state religion? Have you read any of its sacred writings?
- What are the most important religious observances and ceremonies? How regularly do people participate in them?
- How do members of the predominant religion feel about other faiths and non-believers?
- What are the most common forms of marriage ceremonies and celebrations?
- What are the attitudes toward divorce, gambling, and alcohol?
- What foods are most popular and how are they prepared?
- What things are taboo in this society?
- What sports are popular?
- What are the special privileges of age and/or sex?
- If you are invited to dinner, should you arrive early? On time? Late? If late, how late?
- On what occasions would you present (or accept) gifts from people in the country? What kinds of gifts would you exchange?
- How do people greet one another? Shake hands? Embrace or kiss? How do they leave one another? What does any variation from the usual greeting or leave-taking signify?
- If you are invited to a cocktail party, would you expect to find among the guests: foreign business people, men only, men and women, etc.?
- What kind of local public transportation is available? Do all classes of people use it?
- Who has the right of way in traffic: vehicles, animals, pedestrians?
- Are pharmacies readily available and if so where are they located?
- Is the price asked for merchandise fixed, or are customers expected to bargain? How is the bargaining conducted?
- If, as a customer, you touch or handle merchandise for sale, will the storekeeper think you are knowledgeable, inconsiderate, within your rights, completely outside you rights? Other?
Daily Routines & Family Life
- How do people organize their daily activities? What is the normal meal schedule? Is there a daytime rest period? What is the customary time for visiting friends?
- What is the normal work schedule? How does it accommodate environmental or other conditions?
- What is the usual dress for women? For men? Are slacks or shorts worn? If so, on what occasions? Do teenagers wear jeans?
- What are the favorite leisure and recreational activities of adults? Teenagers?
- What games do children play? Where do children congregate?
- How are children disciplined at home?
- Are children usually present at social occasions? At ceremonial occasions? If they are not present, how are they cared for in the absence of their parents?
- How does this society observe children coming of age?
- How will your financial position and living conditions compare with those of the majority of people living in this country?
Educational System & Classroom Culture
- Is education free or compulsory?
- Are school children segregated by race, caste, class, or sex?
- What types of schools are considered best (public, private, or parochial)?
- How important is rote learning? Are children allowed to learn in various ways?
- How are children disciplined in schools?
- Where are the important universities of the country? If university education is sought abroad, to what countries and universities do students go?
Politics & International Relations
- What is the history of the relationships between this country and the United States?
- How many people have emigrated from this country to the United States? Other countries? Are many doing so at present?
- Are there many American expatriates living in this country?
- What kinds of options do foreigners have in choosing a place to live?
- Is military training compulsory for citizens?
- What kinds of health services are available and where are they located?
- What kinds of television programs are broadcast?
- What are the largest circulation newspapers and other media outlets? How do they cover the United States and geopoltical issues?
Original material taken from: Survival Kit for Overseas Living, by L. Robert Kohls. Intercultural Press, 1984.