One of the things I didn't concentrate on in my presentation (50 minutes is not really that long) that Ann highlighted was research. Research is important in any novel where you're not writing what you know. No matter how big or small the unknown factor is.
She used a Michael Ondaatje interview by William Dafoe as an opener.
WD How does research lead to invention and where does it get in the way of invention?In my opinion, one of the perks of random research is that you get to find out things off the beaten track. Like if you look up Shania Twain on youtube, your first dozen hits are probably all her superhits. But if you start at one of those superhits and click around in the sidebar, you might end up at a lesser-known song, like UP, which you would never have found using a typical research method.
MO That’s still a very difficult thing to know. You can always f[redacted] up by having too much research. You can paint yourself into a corner by finding out everything about 1926. Or you can hear someone on a bus say something that happened to somebody, and that’s enough to keep you going for 50 pages. It’s difficult to know what’s right and wrong. The kind of research I do, as a result, is quite intentionally random.
Ann pointed out the research methods she used in her novel, set in Darjeeling - she's part Tibetan. Her grandmother was still living in Darjeeling. She was getting older every day, and Ann said she knew a day would come when she wouldn't be there any more. So she spent some time there and did some interviews. She also went through photographs, letters, and diaries - things you may not have much access to if you don't have a family in. And she read lots of books which helped her focus her trip.
As for the nuts and bolts of setting in a foreign country, it's also important to integrate story and setting. You don't want to write every detail you know. That was something that I warned against in my presentation too. You risk writing a glorified travel guide if the multicultural elements are too much stronger than all the other story elements. Filter details through the pov and plot. Setting should influence the story, but it shouldn't bend it into pretzel shapes.
Ann also pointed out the importance of getting the details right. If you set a story in a Japanese junior high school and then had the kids bring lunch, that would pull me right out of the story. [EDIT: Other than the big cities] there are very few places in Japan where students don't get school lunches up until the end of JHS. Also, let Google be your friend. How you do this is up to you. Maybe you want to stop every time you have a question. Maybe you'll just insert a marker (I use hash tags) and come back to it. But the fact is that it's so easy to get information these days. Time and cost are much less of an issue in working with a foreign setting. Why not take advatange of that?
Is anyone working in a setting which isn't the same as where they live or where their main market lives? How are you doing it?