Where can you find reliable and accurate information in this digital world? A good jumping off place is the Library of Congress, the world’s largest library. This library contains literally millions of books, among other items, from around the world. What is of interest is that the Library houses online the Country Studies series of monographs written for the U.S. Army between 1988 and 1998. Altogether, just over 100 volumes were published. Each volume is arranged along similar lines: an introduction followed by chapters on history, geography/population, economy, government and politics, and national security. The volumes end with statistical tables and a bibliography. In these pages, religion and the society are discussed, allowing the student to gain insight into the country’s culture. In certain cases, these books, having been published between 1988 and 1998, have had updates added.
An additional way of getting current information on countries is to access Country Fact Sheets, an irregular publication issued by the U.S. State Department. While they concentrate on relations with the U.S., many helpful links are supplied to round out the country’s profile.
Great statistical information on every country of the world (and some entities which are not countries), can be gleaned by the heavily-referenced CIA World Factbook. This treasure trove is a goldmine of information on every aspect of a country, ranging from the number of internet users to the miles of paved road a country contains. The CIA keeps this work as updated as possible, adding/revising information every two weeks. In fact, the web site will inform you as to what statistics have been upgraded so the student will know how timely the data is. A highly recommended site.
Google News is a great way to keep abreast of current information in foreign countries of interest. For those who would like a little more focus than Google, the BBC Country Profiles is a reliable and current site for a great deal of information, including the main media outlets for each country. The Guardian newspaper provides current articles pertaining to every country in the world.
Country information from a business perspective also has value for a student because many of these sources provide cultural as well as economic information. One of the best places to go for business information on foreign countries is the Country Commercial Guide. Published on an annual basis by the commercial section of the U.S. consulate in each country, these guides are the cornerstone for doing research on a country’s business prospects’ Another reliable tool is from the UK Trade & Investment section – Country Profiles. And do not forget the Doing Business series. This annual report from the World Bank details the ease or difficulty as to setting up a commercial enterprise in any country in the world. The World Bank also provides Key Development Data and Statistics. There is also a Countries and Regions page where a student will find additional World Bank information.
For a country’s culture, please consult the following:
Country Profiles – Global Guide to Culture, Customs and Etiquette. A site full of valuable information along with numerous articles on this topic. A very worthwhile site and one used by the British government.
Cultural Profiles Project. While this site is a Canadian site addressing the cultural background of recent immigrants, what the site actually does is provide a great deal of information on the countries from which these immigrants left. Everything from medical beliefs to family structure is found here. It is a quite extensive site, and one which should be consulted.
Culture Crossing. This site provides current, vetted information on such cultural items as taboos, greetings, gender issues, views of time, eye contact, etc. For those who have never been to some of these countries, these cultural insights might prove eye-opening