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Know Your Destination
 
Taking the time to do basic research on your host country is essential.

The more you know before you arrive the less culture shock you will experience and your capacity to learn and do more increases tremendously.  As an example, someone who has looked at the public transportation system at their away program compared to someone who decides to 'wing it' once they arrive, will be more knowledgeable (and able to expand on that knowledge) not only about what types of transportation are available, but what popular locations are, distances and directions of locations, and even get an idea of the cost of living based on ticket prices.  This depth of information may not always be possible to attain prior to departure, but if you don't know the capital, national language(s), currency, and can't recognize the national flag of your host country... why apply?  Most people from other countries will know a lot about the United States without ever being there.  It can be extremely offensive if you don't know the basics about the country you will be living in.


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One way you can find information on your country is by visiting the US Department of State website and searching for your country.  You can also sign up for free Google Alerts by inputting your search criteria (i.e. country or city of your program), what you want to find (i.e. news, blogs, books), and how often you want notifications to be sent to your email address.  It's a very easy way to stay updated on current events.

Other ways to learn about your host country/city are to read books, watch movies, and speaking with people who have been, or lived where you are going.  Keep in mind the sources of your information.  People do not dance around India like they do in Bollywood movies and not everyone in China knows martial arts.  What would people think of Americans if they only got their information from watching soap operas?  Also be aware that everyone will have their own opinion.  Not everyone will love your location and the customs, but listening to the good as well as the not-so-good will prepare you for the different things you will encounter.  Keep an open mind until you can form your own opinion.