The first chapter of Slimbach’s text depicts the stereotypical “consumerist/entitlement” mentality of many American study abroad students. Slimbach writes that many foreign countries who host American students find that those who do not remain globally conscious of their host culture acquire “…little of the new cultural knowledge, language ability, and perspective change that marks a well-traveled mind” (Slimbach 35-36). I agree that this stereotype, unfortunately, still exists. Throughout the preparation process for my journey abroad, I talked to many friends from a variety of universities who have studied beyond America’s borders. The majority of them told me “the classes are so easy,” “we partied every night,” and the mainstream “it was a blast” comment. Little was said about the cultural immersion process, what it was like acquiring a new language, the value of the education they were receiving, and the lessons they learned about what it means to be a member of the global community.
Throughout these past two months in Perugia, there have been times where I have become frustrated by fellow students who complain about the smallest of differences between the Italian culture and ours, such as how much walking we have to do to get from place to place and how our town is predominantly Italian-speaking. There are people in hospitals who would give anything to walk two steps, nevermind explore the most beautiful Italian cities on foot. We have more opportunities to acquire the Italian language much quicker than those in larger, touristy cities because we are challenged to speak the language in local shops and restaurants.
Yes, there have been moments where I have found myself “guilty” of the aforesaid accusations of being a stereotypical American study abroad student. There have been moments, for instance, where I have missed the comforts of home and the convenience of using a car to reach my weekly elementary education internship instead of taking the 25 minute walk. However, study abroad travelers like myself cannot look at this once in a lifetime experience through the wrong end of the telescope and focus solely on the cultural differences in such a negative way. Conversely, as Slimbach writes, we have to look at the grand scheme of things: we have to reflect upon “…why certain realities exist, how our lives may be implicated in those realities, and what our basic obligations are,” both as visitors of our host countries and members of the global community (Slimbach 25). Enrolling in this QU*301 course and viewing my study abroad experience as a Rite of Passage experience has truly helped me to not only make the most of my time here in Perugia, but to also break the stereotypes of typical American study abroad students.
Although these stereotypes of study abroad students exist, there are many ways students like myself can encourage the idea that study abroad students can exude global responsibility. As I mentioned in a previous Travel Log, I become unexpectedly homesick with very pessimistic thoughts and feelings at the start of my experience. However, what helped me out of this rut and encouraged me to start making the most of this experience was refocusing on the reasons why I chose to study abroad, what goals I wanted to achieve here, and how I could get more involved, both inside and outside of the Umbra Institute community. Slimbach explains that there has been an “increased movement of students across borders to study, to serve, and to teach” (Slimbach 28). I have been able to fulfill these three aspects of study abroad. I am a full-time student who is studying at the Umbra Institute in Perugia. I serve the local and global community as a UNICEF volunteer every Tuesday night. My friends and I create hand-made ragdolls that UNICEF sells for 20 euro; all the proceeds fund the medications and immunizations for sick children in third-world countries. As a student enrolled in the Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) Program back at Quinnipiac, I am required to do an internship in a local elementary school every semester. I am fortunate enough this semester to be teaching English to fourth and fifth graders at Scuola Elementare di Giovanni Cena every week. Thanks to these opportunities that I have become involved in, I have been able to appreciate the value of the education that I am receiving here, the friendships that I am forming with both American and Italian students, and my contributions to the common good of the global community. Breaking the stereotypes that are typically placed on study abroad students has allowed me to enrich my Rite of Passage.