Social media resources—be it Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat—are the most successful and detrimental inventions to today’s society. As humans, we feel an innate need to belong to the “it” crowd. Many a time I have scrolled through my newsfeed to discover sites I must see in Barcelona or food I have to eat in Rome. Sightseeing and dining, although imperative to traveling abroad, are both consumerist activities. After all is said and done, am I going to remember the gift I bought at a store or perhaps the embarrassing but enriching interaction I have with a local when attempting to speak the native language?
I have found that there is a certain perspective that exists when examining the study abroad experience. Many students, American or otherwise, tend to aggregate with their own. I wonder why, then, did they choose to study abroad in the first place? The goal of study abroad, especially with this course, is to move outside of your comfort zone and learn about another culture through assimilation. Many Americans would describe having a strong sense of nationalism and believing the United States is “the greatest country” on Earth. While it is great to have national pride, it can be harmful to your host culture and your experience as a whole. In Rite of Passage Theory, this is what we call a “trickster:” a person or thing that interrupts and perpetuates the transitional phase. Although most students do not purposefully exude and impose their native ideals, they subconsciously shy away from the new culture. Slimbach states, “ American students abroad may not have stars-and-stripes patches sewn onto their backpack, or see themselves as having much in common with their “tourist” counterparts on luxury cruises and package tours. But neither are they eager to relinquish many of the comfortable amenities and social networks of home” (35).
For example, most French cafés and bistros offer a selection of burgers, as well as many French dishes. Instead of trying the escargot or duck confit, the American will order what they know they like, sometimes even in English, instead of venturing outside their comfort zone.
To combat the temptation of reverting to old ways, students can try different approaches. For every verbal exchange you have in your native tongue, try to match it with one in your host country’s language. Instead of pulling out your GPS for navigation, you could ask a native to show you the way. When you are eating a meal at a restaurant, ask your server what traditional meal they suggest. While out with friends, perhaps you strike up a conversation with locals of your age. All of these instances refute the stereotypes that study abroad students are reluctant to assimilate and temporarily adopt the host culture. Even after posing these suggestions, I have realized that I could improve in all these areas. Each day, the study abroad student should maximize their potential to portray global responsibility, instead of isolating themselves by clinging to remnants of their home culture.