This past weekend I traveled to Dublin, Ireland with a friend of mine. It was undoubtedly one of my favorite weekends abroad, as Ireland is where a lot of my family is from and I have many memories and personal experiences related to the culture and traditions of the Irish people. One of my most memorable experiences I had was our dinner on Saturday night, during which we had a lengthy conversation with a woman from Australia. It all started when we ordered our dinner and the woman at the table next to us recognized our American accent. She told us that she was visiting from Australia and began to ask us about our abroad experience and our travels this semester, after which the conversation then turned towards cultural stereotypes and our views of each other’s cultures. During this exchange I learned a lot about both the Australian culture and Australian’s views of Americans. For example, I learned that many Australians take a gap year before college to travel and see the world. The woman we spoke with had actually traveled a significant amount herself, having been to the United States, Canada, Mexico and most of the places I have traveled to this semester. She had even been to places in the U.S that I have never even traveled to such as California and the Grand Canyon. The woman did seem to have a negative attitude towards the U.S and more specifically the American government, citing the fact that there are American troops stationed in Australia. I was not so much surprised by her attitude towards the American government, but I was surprised by the tone with which she was able to speak towards us about our own country. The woman was very nice to us personally and gave us some great advice about places to see while in Europe, but the way she spoke about our home country and culture came across as almost disrespectful and said things that I personally would feel uncomfortable saying to someone else about their home country. There is a quote by Lyndon B. Johnson I read during our workshop at Quinnipiac that really stuck with me during my time abroad. It says: “When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” Although our conversation was a bit uncomfortable for me at times, it was definitely a great learning experience.
“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”
Stereotypes have definitely been a very big part of my study abroad experience, especially in a country like Italy that has such a large cultural presence in my home state of New Jersey. I am constantly faced with stereotypes both of Americans by Italians and of Italians by Americans. For example, I often find myself faced with the stereotype that Americans are not familiar with the Italian culture. When I try speaking to locals in Italian, they often respond to me in English not knowing that I am familiar with the language. This is a stereotype that sometimes takes away from my abroad experience and my attempt to embrace the culture. On the other hand, I have realized that a lot of stereotypes that we Americans have about Italians are also untrue. For example, Italians don’t always eat pizza and drink wine and many Italians are actually a lot more modern than the stereotype we have of Italians as very old-fashioned people.
One of the biggest stereotypes that exists of Italians among Americans is the idea that all Italians are in the mafia. This is a stereotype that has existed for many years, and has been fueled by the Hollywood film industry with movies such as The Godfather. My time here in Italy has taught me that this is actually a very sensitive subject for Italians and that not all Italians are in the mafia. The mafia actually originated in southern Italy and is almost unheard of here in Florence. Something interesting that I have learned about Italy is that although it is politically unified, there are actually many different cultures that exist within Italy. The food, dialects, architecture, history and traditions that one finds in, for example, Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome and Naples will be almost completely different. This comes from the fact that Italy was not unified until 1861, so many of the stereotypes that exist for all Italians are actually only true for a certain area. When I head back to the U.S. my knowledge of the actuality behind our stereotypes of others will definitely change the way I view other cultures.