This study abroad experience is one unforgettable moment of a lifetime. Some students choose to study abroad to immerse themselves in a new culture, to expand their minds to this world we live in, and to gain positive self-growth. These are just a few reasons why I chose to study abroad, along with my desire to learn more about the Spanish culture. However, for some students, this is not the same case. Slimbach describes some of these types of foreigners as the “Ugly American.” These are people that arrive to a host country with no interest and little effort to integrate into the community. Adam Weinberg describes it as “these students (at best) simply get the American college experience in a different time zone” (Slimbach 753). Unfortunately, this stereotype of American students studying abroad has made many people to believe that students studying abroad feel entitled and do not care to learn more about their host culture.
I think that this attitude has developed toward study abroad students because we have seen examples across social media of Americans traveling abroad to other countries and not respecting the host country’s laws and customs. For example, some students have climbed on top of historical or holy monuments and posted pictures of it on their Facebook or Instagram. When I first arrived in Spain, I was told that climbing on top of statues and holy sculptures is illegal. While I have respected my host country’s laws and regulations, I have witnessed other foreigners disregard Spain’s customs.
Although it can be difficult learning to speak Spanish, I feel that I have tried my hardest to speak with locals using their language. It is disappointing when I come across other students that have no desire to try and learn the language. I have actually heard a student comment, “Oh my gosh why don’t they speak English here?!” Although not all do, I think that some Americans have given off the impression that they do not care to embrace the culture. I feel that I have not really fallen into these stereotypical accusations of Americans that Slimbach has described. Although at times it has been difficult, I have been trying to take full advantage of this experience. I currently attend a weekly dance class at a studio in the city that is filled with locals and very few that speak English, and I have a language partner that is helping me improve my Spanish.
I think that as study abroad students we do have the power to change these stereotypes and exude global responsibility. Getting involved is one step. There are so many ways to get involved in the local community whether it is volunteering, picking up a favorite hobby, or participating in activities provided by programs. I am trying to continuously break the stereotype of the “Ugly American” by respecting Spain’s culture, and being involved with the studio.