It is no secret that American students who are studying abroad are not the most liked group of people. In my experiences, I have found that many Europeans think that Americans are dumb and rude, mostly because so many of us fail to integrate ourselves into the local culture. Many Americans go abroad and try to adapt the new country to their needs and comforts, instead of trying to assimilate into the pre-existing culture. Slimbach says that for many students, studying abroad, “can simply be just one more consumer product that we collect with the wealth we’ve accumulated” (Slimbach 35). In other words, studying abroad is just a thing that students can say that they did, instead of an experience that they lived and leaned from. Too many students surround themselves with only other Americans, go to American-style bars, and write off the local culture as strange. These students try to live like Americans in a new setting.
Along with not trying to learn about the new culture, many American students attempt to live an extended vacation. They set off to the most touristic locations every weekend, hoping to get the most perfect Instagram picture to make everyone at home jealous. They go see the Eiffel Tower, the Buckingham Palace, the Coliseum, and Oktoberfest just to say that they have been there. Irwin Abrams equates study abroad with, “sight-seeing with a syllabus” (Slimbach 35). Many students see study abroad as an opportunity to travel, but forget the meaning that the experience can hold. They live a glamorous life for four months, blowing through money and time, and forget to step back and reflect on how studying abroad is shaping themselves and their views on the global community.
As much as I hate to admit it, I have noticed myself falling into some of these tendencies. I have definitely visited touristic locations, but I defend this by saying that these amazing sites are touristic because they are beautiful and rooted in history. I think that if students try to learn while visiting these places and continue to integrate themselves in the cultures there, this is acceptable. Also, I often find myself at American pubs on the weekends and I realize that all of my friends here are Americans. I think that what makes it most difficult to make Italian friends is the language barrier and that many Italians think of Americans as inferior. However, my roommate and I have gone to the Italian university cafeteria for lunch with three other Italians and it went well. We are hoping that this turns into a friendship so that we can try to gain cultural knowledge, as Slimbach would put it.
I think that one of the best ways for students to travel and discourage the “Ugly American” stereotype is to try to keep a low American profile. For example, walking around cities in smaller groups draws less attention to you as tourists. Also, in places where English is not the primary language, students should try to speak and learn the language as best as possible. Lastly, they can try to stay away from the touristic pubs and restaurants, and opt instead for the more authentic restaurants. This will give students the best opportunity to learn about the culture. As Slimbach says, “Under certain conditions [study abroad] can enrich the cultural and socioeconomic life of host communities while providing us with unequalled resources for reshaping our world awareness, self-consciousness, and style of life” (Slimbach 35). It is up to the student to decide whether he or she wants to have a “well-traveled mind” or be just another tourist.