Researching Overseas (Part 2)

Are you travelling overseas on a research trip? In this new blog series of 3, Georgina Collins provides a guide on working in different cultures and environments for researchers. In Part 1 she took on case studies such as researching in: Africa, South America and Asia. Here in Part 2, Georgina tackles What to Expect when Researching Overseas & How Best to Focus your Time. 

Georgina Collins 

  • Language and cultural issues
  • Health and safety
  • Conducting your research

Language and Cultural Issues 

While it may be safe to say that at present English seems to be the world’s lingua franca, in many countries English is still a minority language.  Make sure you learn a few words and phrases from a local language to help you get by.  People will generally warm to you if you make an effort to speak their language.

Read up on local cultural issues. For example, what are the rules regarding clothing – are women required to dress modestly?  Are certain gestures inacceptable within a particular culture?  What is the predominant religion in the region you are travelling to?  For instance, in Islamic countries, visitors should be especially respectful during the fasting month of Ramadan as eating, drinking or smoking in public may be deemed disrespectful.

Advice on religion, customs and laws in individual countries can be found on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website (linkto:


Health and Safety

Make sure you have had any vaccinations you need before you travel and take any other medication you need with you (making sure it is legal there).

Arrange comprehensive travel insurance that will cover you for any medical bills and assistance as well as a cancelled trip or lost and stolen items.

If you are travelling to a European country, get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which will entitle you to discounted healthcare.

Food and drink can sometime be an issue abroad.  Find out if the water is drinkable, and if in any doubt stick to bottled water.

You may also have problems with ice in drinks, fruit and vegetables washed in contaminated water and unpasteurised goods.  Generally, piping hot food and fruit and vegetables that you have peeled yourself are safe.

Most other advice is pretty obvious – be careful in the sun, drink lots of water in hot climate and be aware of local emergency service numbers

Be careful travelling on your own, especially at night. Women may have to be extra careful. More comprehensive advice can be found on the Foreign and Commonwealth website (linkto:

Take the number of the British Embassy (linkto: in your destination country, so you can call up should you have any problems on your trip.


Conducting your research

Before you arrive in a foreign country you have not previously visited, it is hard to know what to expect. The key is to plan your time wisely. Write a list of everything you hope to achieve whilst you are overseas and stick to it.

At an overseas university, you may find that it takes a few days to gain library access, and you should allow for this in your research plan.  You might also discover that the library system is very different from that at Warwick – this could be better or worse, but try to get someone to give you a guided tour and explain the system to you.

If conducting field research in the form of quantitative or qualitative interviews or focus groups, prepare your questions in advance and make sure they are sound.  You may only have that one chance to conduct the interview and will need to make sure your data holds up.

Prepare any agreements for copyright and use of any interview material before you go, so they can be signed at the time.

Organise your research as you go along, by filing and labelling it well.  In this way, your work will be much easier when you return home.

If you are short on time, make the most of your location and don’t do work overseas that you can do in the UK.  If you are collating articles and books, where possible scan selected research material into a computer and store it digitally, or photocopy only the relevant parts of articles or books so as to minimise the load you wish to take home.

Bear in mind that excess luggage charges can be astronomical if you buy lots of books and pack them in your suitcase.

Finally, don’t forget to use your time overseas to network.  If you are intending to continue your research long-term, then the contacts you make on this first trip will make your life much easier in the future.


Photo Credit: Harsha KR/Creative Commons

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