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Know Your New Country


How far in the past does national history go? If the nation is a relatively new one, are there local traditions of past history, like the origins of the tribe, the clan, the first settlers?

How important is genealogy? How far into the past can anyone go with his personal history?

What are considered the main events in the history of the nation, or of your local group?

Find out the heroes involved and their exploits. When did the country become a nation? What were the circumstances concerning that event?

What historical sites can tourists visit? Where are they and what do they commemorate? Are they visited often, or just on certain significant dates? Who visits them—foreigners? local people? Are any of the sites of international importance? Explain. If possible, visit one and talk about what you observed about the site itself and what the people who were present did while there.

How many languages are spoken in your area? in the entire country? Which ones are of importance in communicating on international or national levels?


What is the general terrain in your immediate area? Possibilities: hilly, mountainous, plateau, level, ravines and gullies, etc. How does this differ from the rest of the country? Draw a topographical map showing elevations. Find out what each feature is called. Are any of them of historical importance?religious importance? economic value? Do any of these delineate borders? Are they considered dangerous? Why or why not?

Are there water sources in your immediate area, like a stream, a river, a lake? What are the local names for these? Look at a map, or draw your own, and name each of the rivers and lakes throughout the country. Are these navigable? If so, for what purpose? Did any of these figure in historical events? How are rivers and streams crossed? Are they considered boundaries between ethnic groups? Is a river the border of another country? Is the “other side” enemy territory? What economic value does the water source have for the community? for the country?

Are there legends or folk tales associated with any of these topographical features? Find out about those that are commonly known in your area. Are these areas regarded with fear or are they considered mysterious? Are there stories of origin associated with them?

58. KNOW YOUR NEW COUNTRY: Its Government

[NOTE: Some of this material may overlap with “Voting in Elections” where it was needed for background. This lesson goes into more detail as to the makeup of the government]


What is the form of government in the country? (kingdom? republic? democracy? autocracy?)

What local and national political parties exist and how do you become a member?

Who can hold office? Can anyone become the head of state? Are there gender, religious, or social status qualifications or restrictions?

Does the head of state have unlimited power? If not, what checks and balances are in place? How is power distributed? What is the chain of command?

What official administrative positions are there? Are there special qualifications that must be met in order to serve on this level? Which positions are appointed and which are elected by the people? If appointed, who appoints them? Which, if any, of these positions are inherited?

Is there a parliament, or its equivalent? What is its administrative makeup (house, senate, council, etc.)? Who constitute their membership and how do they become members (appointment, vote, inheritance, etc.)? Do all minority groups have equal representation?

What is the role of the parliament? How much influence does it have over decisions made by the head of state? Does it have the privilege of presenting legislation to the head of state for his/her ratification?


What official administrative positions are there in your neighborhood? in your village, town, or city? What is the highest position? How are these political leaders selected? Do the same qualities, qualifications and restrictions apply on this level as applied on the national level?

Is there an advisory council for that leader? Find out how members are chosen, how much authority they have in what areas, and how much influence they have over the leader.

Are there local people who are more powerful or influential than the administration? Who are they, and what is the source of their power? Why aren’t they in the position of leadership?

To what extent can the local populace influence decision making? Are women involved in higher levels of administration and decision making? At what age can young people be involved?

Are there local groups that address issues on a local level? What are they? Who can participate in them? Are there regular meetings or do they convene only when the need arises? Who calls a meeting, and who leads it? How are decisions made and how are they enforced? What kinds of issues might be addressed, and which might need to be met on a higher level?

Do people feel they have more of a voice at this level? Why, or why not?

How are major decisions arrived at in any of these levels of government? What scope or recourse is there for debate or disagreement? Do all at the meeting get an equal opportunity to express their views? Is it best for decisions to be unanimous? How is compromise handled?

Who articulates the final decision? How is the decision conveyed to the village or citizenry?

57. KNOW YOUR NEW COUNTRY: The Capitol City

What is the capitol city of your adopted country? Does the name hold a special meaning? What are the advantages of its location within the country (a port city, central, good climate, etc.)

What administrative buildings are present? Are they all in one general location, or scattered around the city? Are there other buildings which are considered national buildings, as museums, monuments, parks, mausoleums?

Obtain a map of the city and highlight the various buildings.

Are tours available to see the capitol building? If so, take one, and note seating arrangements, color schemes, pictures hung or painted on the walls, any other decorations. Do the pictures depict national heroes, war victories, ethnic groups, or anything else that would give a clue as to what is considered important in the culture and history of the nation? Is there a balcony or other area where observers can come and watch proceedings? Is this only open for citizens, or can foreigners also watch?

56. KNOW YOUR NEW COUNTRY: National and Local Symbols

Ask what the colors and emblems on the national flag mean. Is there any other national standard used, such as a seal or a coat of arms? If so, ask the meaning of these and how and when they are used. Are there regional flags? Ask the same questions concerning them.

Does the country have a national emblem, like an animal, plant, slogan, or national hero? What about your city? town? region? Do any of these have nicknames, like The Buckeye State, the Windy City?

Learn the national anthem. Find out who wrote it, when it is sung, and how one should stand when it is sung. How universally is it known and recognized?

Is there a national flower? animal? bird? tree? sport? dress? What about food or drink? Are any of these recognized on a local level?

What is your area famous for? a beverage? a particular food? climate? a natural scene or occurrence? a festival?

55. KNOW YOUR NEW COUNTRY: Voting in Elections

A word of CAUTION: In some countries it is not advisable for a foreigner to ask questions about politics and the political system. You will still want to learn about this topic but asking questions of a neighbor or friend may be very inappropriate. Please discuss this with a trusted expat advisor before interviewing someone about voting and elections.

[NOTE: Some of this material may overlap with “Its Government,” but in order to talk about elections, this is needed for background]

What official administrative positions are there:

  • in your neighborhood?
  • your village, town, or city?
  • on the national level?

How are these political leaders selected? What qualifications are looked for in this process? Does age, experience, education, ethnic or religious affiliation, residence, or some other quality figure most highly?

Are there general elections? How often are they held? Who is allowed to vote? How are illiterate voters able to cast their ballots? How much interest do the people have in selecting or voting for their officials? Is interest higher when voting for local officials in contrast to national leaders?

How do candidates make themselves and their platform known to the public? in public meetings? by TV programs? by going house to house?

Talk to people before an election. How important a role do they feel elections have in the governing of their country? their town? Do they feel that their vote really counts? Do people talk together before elections to give or receive advice on how to vote or is this considered a very private concern?

Where do the people in your neighborhood go to vote? If permissible, go to the polling place and observe people as they cast their ballots. How are ballots cast? Written out? Electronically? Where are they put? Do people interact with each other in the polling area? Do you get the impression of pride, anger, frustration, hope? Describe what you can observe and check these out with some of your friends.

How will the votes be tallied? Who is appointed to do this? How are the results announced to the public?


How do people identify themselves?

  • By citizenship? By ethnic origin? By clan membership?
  • By language or dialect? By caste or occupation?

In view of this,

  • What do they call themselves?
  • What do they call outsiders?
  • What do outsiders call them?

Do groups have a tendency to stick together in the larger society or do they integrate?

What certain traits that identify their “membership”—dress, body markings, piercings, etc.?

What stories and anecdotes that bind the “members” together in a common history?

At what age are children initiated into full rights as a member of their society? How is this done?

What, beside sex and age, are the main divisions in society? These could be based on kinship, occupation or skill, religious orientation, educational standard, financial holdings, etc.


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