It's a good idea to take a few minutes preferably every day to read and learn about a different country in Wikipedia, a very reliable website and one of my favorite online references.
It's a fun, sometimes time-consuming project because country entries are lengthy and it's easy to get diverted from them to other wiki sites.
For example, today I looked at Uzbekistan in Central Asia. There is a new freshman rumored to be from that country boarding at my daughter's high school in New Jersey this fall. I decided to include my favorite facts about Uzbekistan in a nutshell....
These are three unrelated facts that differentiate Uzbekistan:
1) Uzbekistan is distinguished, along with Liechtenstein, as being one of only two "double-landlocked countries" in the world. It's completely landlocked on four sides.
2) It is attractively sunny, having less than eight inches of precipitation per year!
3) It ranks as fifth most corrupt country in the world in the Corruption Index, worse than Afghanistan this year. (This is surely not socially acceptable for conversation in that country, even if true).
By the way, this is a very interesting, if controversial, annual international index:
Here are three historical and geographical facts:
1) Uzbekistan was formerly part of the Soviet Union until 1991 and is now part of the Commonwealth of Independent States led by President Islom Karimov.
2) Tamerlane was a military leader in the 14thC and the country dates back to the 2nd millenium B.C. Notable cities are Bukhara, Namangan and Samarkand. Today Uzbekistan has the biggest military force in Central Asia.
3) The capital is Tashkent, and it has the only subway system (with ornate, decorative clean stations) in Central Asia. Uzbekistan, the most populous country in the region, is divided into provinces.
Here are a few general economic facts about Uzbekistan:
Economic production is concentrated in commodities: Uzbekistan is now the world's sixth-largest producer and second-largest exporter of cotton, as well as the seventh largest world producer of gold. It is also a regionally significant producer of natural gas, coal, copper, oil, silver, and uranium. [boldface mine]
A February 2006 report on the country by the International Crisis Group suggests that revenues earned from key exports, especially cotton, gold, corn, and increasingly gas, are distributed among a very small circle of the ruling elite, with little or no benefit for the populace at large.
Uzbekistan is thought to offer "limited civil rights" and the government is hostile about developing a private sector it cannot control. Import substitution is a policy, and decreasing consumption is the general tendency caused by high taxes. The stock exchange in this emerging market is only fourteen years old and their currency is the som.
During cotton-picking season students and teachers of this country roughly the size of Morocco pick cotton for free. Their universities graduate 600,000 per year (according to Wikipedia) but the average salary is still less than $3,000/year. Cellphone use has doubled to seven million (out of a total population of 27 million) in the last six months and internet use is up. Also, a third of the country's population is younger than fourteen and the national holiday is September 1.
Thanks, Wikipedia and thank you, dear reader, for reading this! Now you will be more prepared if you, too, should be fortunate enough to meet an Uzbek and visit Uzbekistan.