I can definitely see how the negative attitude towards study abroad students has developed over the years. Too often have I witnessed the typical “ugly American” in my time abroad. Not only in Spain, but in the other countries I’ve visited as well. One of my professors jokes that you can always tell an American from the rest of the crew because they’re always complaining and usually making loud, obnoxious sounds. The sad thing is that now, after being here for a good two months, I can see exactly where he gets that from. I can immediately tell who is American on the subway a majority of the time because of these factors. They’re usually discussing how drunk they got at the club last night or what luxury hotel they’re staying in next weekend. On the streets late at night, I’ve seen students in other study abroad programs peeing on the streets. Tourists are becoming a big issue in Barcelona, as the locals have taken a notice to this behavior.
In my Urban Studies course here, my professor showed us all a video that, while a bit dramatic, described how most American tourists come here to simply go to the clubs and get wasted rather than explore the sites and try to get to know the culture. They’d rather have Starbucks than go to a small coffee shop, would rather speak English than Spanish, and want nothing more than to cross this city off their list of things to see. I really hate seeing that because I completely agree with Slimbach’s point of view on this situation. While abroad it should be one our main initiative to want to acquire new cultural knowledge, improve our language ability and develop a new attitude towards traveling. Even if an individual isn’t living in the best of conditions, he can still gain insight from his time overseas. An individual can make the best of any situation – that’s simply up to him to decide his own fate. And that’s why I love this quote by Slimbach about education abroad that says “under certain conditions it 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). If under the right circumstances and the right mindset, we as study abroad students can help slip the ugly American stereotype.
I believe that a great way we could discourage this stereotype of study abroad students and encourage the idea that we can exude-global responsibility is to have students take a course very much like this one. Not only has this course allowed us to keep documentation of our travels, but it has also been a source of key information towards making something useful out of this trip. We’ve been required to analyze the local culture and come up with a plan to better incorporate ourselves into it. We’ve spoken to locals and gotten advice from them as well. Slimbach’s book has been a valuable asset along the way, enlightening us to definitive way of gaining a truly meaningful trip overseas. On top of this we’re also required to complete community service in our city – this is something I think it particularly awesome as it allows us to give back to the cities that have been hosting us. All of the things this course involves and requires of us are what can help to change the impression of an American study abroad student to a positive one as opposed to the way it is now.