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Know Your Host Country


Preparing for your study abroad can be one of the most fun parts of the study abroad process and is a great way to ensure that you have a successful and enjoyable experience. By learning about your host country, you can better equip yourself to communicate with locals, handle some of the cultural differences that might arise, and form realistic expectations about life abroad. 

There is a wealth of information about nearly every country available online and in bookstores. 

- Guidebooks such as Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, Fodor’s, and Rick Steves' books provide comprehensive information for travelers, including the destination’s demographic, political and historical profile, hotel and restaurant reviews, and even suggested tour itineraries. 
The CIA World Factbook includes a variety of facts about the countries of the world, and serves as a fantastic information resource for a country’s history, people, government, economy, energy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues. 

- For more up-to-date information, websites such as Wikitravel​ can be useful. However, note that these sites are edited by users and may include inaccurate and/or biased information from the contributors.


Things You Can Do to Learn About Your Host Country

  • Practice your language skills, or commit to learning a few basic phrases
  • Watch films or television shows produced in or about your host country
  • Listen to music from popular singers from your host country
  • Cook a recipe from your host country’s cuisine
  • Visit a restaurant that serves cuisine from your host country
  • Read literature written by writers from your host country
  • Read travel guides
  • Keep abreast of current events in your host country
  • If you know where you will be living, use Google Earth to familiarize yourself with the area, as well as plot your route to your host school

 General Questions

  • What language (or languages) do people speak in your host country? Are many citizens bilingual? Is English a commonly spoken language within the country’s tourism industry?
  • How many people live in your host country?
  • What are the main religions in your host country, and do citizens identify strongly with their religious backgrounds?
  • What are your host country’s most important holidays, and how are they celebrated?
  • Is your host country a popular tourist destination? What are some of the most popular sites that tourists visit?

 Politics and Government

  • What is the political system of your host country?
  • Who is the leader of your host country? Are they a monarch, a president, a prime minister, or some other sort of figurehead?
  • What do political parties look like in your host country? In some countries, like China, there can be one dominant party, whereas other countries, like Germany, have numerous political parties and new parties can spring up in a matter of months.
  • Are the citizens of your host country interested in politics? Are there any political topics that foreigners should not talk about?

 Culture and Taboos

  • What are some of the social customs of your country?
  • Are citizens of your host country known for being reserved or outgoing towards foreigners?
  • Is your host culture community-minded, or more individualistic?
  • What conversation topics are considered impolite or taboo?
  • Who are some of the main historical and cultural figures in your host country’s history?
  • What are some well-known films or literature from your host country?

 Practical Considerations

  • What are the costs and standard of living like in your host country? Are they significantly different for foreigners than for locals?
  • How do university students behave? Do classes involve much discussion and student contribution, or are they primarily led by the professor?
  • Where and how is shopping done? Do locals shop at supermarkets, or local bazaars? Does your host culture encourage haggling, or are prices fixed?
  • What kind of clothing do locals wear? Would it be a good idea for you to attempt to dress like them?
  • What kinds of bank cards does your host country commonly accept? Is there a wide network of ATMs throughout the country?
  • What are some of the local laws?
  • Are any diseases endemic to your host country? Will you require vaccinations? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization​ should be your first resources when researching vaccinations.

 Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Disability

  • Do a variety of ethnic groups live in your host country, or is the population more ethnically homogenous? What are the host country’s attitudes toward people of different ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds?
  • What are some of the perceptions of gender roles in your host country? Do they differ significantly from your beliefs about gender?
  • What stance do people in your host country take on homosexuality?
  • What resources are available for persons with physical or mental disabilities in your host country? Are buildings accessible to persons in wheelchairs? What are attitudes toward physical or mental disability in your host country?
  • Check out our Commitment to Diversity​ Page for more resources!


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