Preparing for a Host Country and Culture

Find Out about the Host Country

Before your student departs for their study abroad program, you may want to find out more about the host country. We provide program-specific information on our website.

Another great resource for general information about your student's host country and the surrounding area is the State Department's Country Background Notes. The Background Notes provide information in the categories of people, government, history, political conditions, economy, foreign relations, US relations, travel, and business.

You also might consult guidebooks that contain information about cultural practices. We encourage you to read about your student's host country before his or her departure. Gaining more knowledge about the destination will help to answer questions and address your concerns. There are many books on the market that provide basic information for studying and traveling abroad. Other suggestions include: 

There are, of course, many other travel guides on various countries and travel topics. 

Preparing for Another Culture

1. Disabilities

Study abroad is available to all UW-Madison students. If a student requires special accommodations due to a physical or learning disability, the sooner our office knows about these needs, the more time we will have to see that the proper and reasonable accommodations are made. If your student will need special accommodations while studying abroad, please have him or her make an appointment to see our Assistant Director by calling our office number: 608-262-9037.

The McBurney Disability Resource Center is part of the UW-Madison and can also serve as a resource for you. It is located at 1305 Linden Drive, Madison, WI. Phone: 608-263-2741, TTY: 608-263-6393

Email: mcburney@odos.wisc.edu.

Additional Resources: 

  • A World of Options, published by Mobility International USA (MIUSA), P.O. Box 3551, Eugene, OR 97403

  • The Real Guide: Able to Travel, by Alison Walsh. Available in many larger bookstores.
    Holiday and Travel Abroad: A Guide for Disabled People. Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation (RADAR), 25 Mortimer Street, London W1N 8AB ENGLAND

  • Travel for the Disabled: A Handbook of Travel Resources and 500 Worldwide Access Guides, by Helen Hecker. Twin Peaks Press, P.O. Box 129, Vancouver, WA 98666

2. Gender

Both men and women entering another culture may become aware of different expectations based on gender in various parts of the world. Norms for some behaviors, like dress, may seem much stricter, while those for other behaviors, like physical touch between men, may seem much more relaxed, or vice-versa. In some countries, American women may find themselves uncomfortable with the looks and comments from men, while American men may find it very difficult to meet women of the host country. Sometimes, American students have found that people have made assumptions about them and their attitudes simply because they are American. This, of course, happens in reverse as well. 

You or your student may not like all the gender-based customs found in the host country but reading about the customs will help you gain respect for the differences, or at least be able to tolerate them. It will help you as a parent to better understand reasons behind behaviors toward your son or daughter. See also the Health and Safety section of this website for more information on safety for women travelers. Students can feel free to discuss these issues with International Programs staff.

Additional Resources:

  • Half the Earth: Women's Experience of Travel Worldwide, eds. Miranda Davies, Laura Longrigg and Lucinda Montefiore

  • A Journey of One's Own: Uncommon Advice for the Independent Woman Traveler, by Thalia Zepatos

3. Sexual Identity

Time spent living in another culture tends to be a time of self-exploration, and you should be prepared for the possibility that your student may question his or her sexual identity for the first time. Other students who have already identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual may find differences in negotiating their sexuality in a new culture, with a different social climate, laws, and ways of meeting others. In either case, keep in mind that many of the ideas held in the U.S. about sexuality and sexual orientation are culturally-based and may not translate easily into the culture your student is entering. In some cultures, Western understandings or levels of tolerance of 'gay' and 'lesbian' simply do not exist; people who engage in same-sex relationships may not see this behavior/preference as an identity around which to organize. In other places, there are active communities and visible social movements for civil rights. If your student has questions or concerns about these issues, he or she can contact a staff member in our office, and we will try to assist him or her.

Below are some resources which might provide a starting point for learning about the general climate, laws, and meeting places, which exist in your student's host country.

Additional Resources:

  • The Third Pink Book: A global view of lesbian and gay liberation and oppression, eds. Aart Hendriks, Rob Tielman and Evert van der Veen, 1993

  • Spartacus: International Gay Guide, pub. Bruno Gmunder, 2001-02 ed. 

  • Out in the World: International Lesbian Organizing, by Shelly Anderson

  • Out in the World: Gay and lesbian life from Buenos Aires to Bangkok, by Neil Miller

  • Are you two. . . together? A gay and lesbian travel guide to Europe, by Lindsey Van Gelder and Pamela Brandt

    Also, Indiana University's study abroad website has some excellent suggestions.

4. Race and Ethnicity Adjustment

Race and ethnic relations differ across the world. Travelers may be treated differently than at home because of their race or ethnicity. When traveling to a country where your student looks physically like the majority of the people, the cultural expectations for majority people may be applied to him or her. Students who are in the minority during the time abroad may be treated differently than at home. There are many countries that have seen a resurgence of racism or where ethnic strife is a continuing experience. We encourage you to consult relevant materials to help prepare you and your student for the situation found in the host country.

Parents or students with concerns about these issues can contact a staff member in our office. Upon request, we will try to locate a former student or faculty member associated with the region who can discuss these issues with your student.

While studying abroad, if your student expresses to you feelings of discrimination, please encourage him or her to talk to staff at the host university or in Madison.

How to Help Students Help Themselves

One of the best things you can do as a parent to support your student in her or his international academic program, is to let him or her handle the program details. In most cases, we need to deal with the student directly. Please allow students to take on this responsibility themselves.

Prior to departing for their programs, all students receive program-specific materials, a consular information sheet for their country, and a CISI insurance policy information and card. All students also attend a mandatory International Perspectives class and complete an online orientation prior to departure. Please ask your student to share this information with you. If you have a question, chances are that your student will have the answer.

Next Section: Preparing for Travel

Previous Section: The Cost of Studying Abroad

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