Getting to know your host city: Practical considerations

Getting to know your host city
Getting to know your host city

When students (and faculty!) arrive to the study abroad host city for the first time, a bit of practical orientation is in order. Giving students the opportunity to explore and get to know the host city can keep them from getting lost on the way to class, direct their attention to parts of the city that are safe, and provide them with an overview of places they may want to revisit and explore in depth. Sometimes, hiring a tour guide to show students around the city is either impossible due to budget constraints or impractical due to logistical constraints. Here are three alternative tactics I’ve used in the past to help students get to know their study abroad host city:

  1. Scavenger Hunt: Before arrival in the host city, provide students with a city map and a list of items or information to find in the host city. This list can include facts that appear on landmarks (e.g., In what year was the cathedral built?), a list of photos for students to take (e.g., Take a picture of the gargoyle eating a chicken), drawings (e.g., Draw the city flag that is on display at city hall), or a combination of items. Be sure to focus students’ attention on things that are in safe places and in locations that they are likely to want to return to visit (e.g., a museum or a famous theater). You may want to encourage active student participation by turning the scavenger hunt into a timed team activity with a prize for the winners.
  2. Map Activities: During orientation the first day on site, provide students with a map of the host city with a list of items to find such as their host family’s house, the building where classes are held, the nearest grocery store, the nearest pharmacy, and prominent landmarks like city hall or the cathedral. Students can work individually or in groups. As a follow-up activity, you may want to challenge students to work together to find two other students that live close by or provide each other with “tours” of the host city from their unique perspectives. If the goal of study abroad is language learning, students can also use this activity as an opportunity to practice giving and following directions in the target language. If your students do not necessarily speak the target language, this activity may be a good opportunity to practice non-verbal communication.
  3. Create the tour yourself: This strategy works particularly well if you have a team of faculty, instructors, or program staff among whom you can divide the work — choose 5-6 of the most important places for students to know about and do some internet research to brush up on the information you think they should know. This strategy allows you to tailor your tour to your particular student group and their unique interests — an option not available through most standard tour guide agencies.

Are there any other activities that you’ve used to help students get to know their host city?

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