William, a loyal MR reader, asks:
What advice do you have for an aspiring development economist visiting a developing country for the first time?
He is a rising sophomore from a very good university and has strong interests in economics. The locale is Cape Town, although the question is about general advice. My tips are the following:
1. Learn as quickly as you can what is safe and what is not. In Brazil taxicabs are pretty safe, in Mexico City they are not. This will take some doing and in the meantime be very careful. Have a prearranged safety net if you lose everything to a thief.
2. Do not get drunk take drugs or patronize prostitutes. Really, It is a path to trouble and if you want to do it save it for a more familiar environment.
3. Try out the various transportation networks in the region, the more inconvenient the better.
4. Attend a religious ceremony or fiesta or both.
5. Make sure you visit some small farms.
6. Immerse yourself in the music of the place — I don’t mean the most commercial musics — before you go and then of course after you arrive. This is more valuable and more "real" than reading the literature, which is often intended for outsiders. Of course read some non-fiction on the place as well.
7. See if you can teach or attend a class in a local school.
8. Eat the street food.
9. Do not rule out the idea of romance, keeping #2 in mind and noting that cross-cultural romantic signals are often misunderstood. This is a tricky one but it is the #1 teacher if it works out not to mention the romantic benefits.
10. Count the number of Indians and Chinese and Lebanese (and sometimes Koreans) around and draw inferences from that data.
11. If you can, arrive with a well-defined hypothesis in mind. But don’t think you can collect all the data on one trip, you probably can’t.
12. Realize that you probably won’t understand all the times that people are telling you "no."
Learning the language goes without saying. I suspect Chris Blattman can add to this list, can you?
Addendum: Here are Chris’s tips.