When first reading Slimbach’s text discussing the typical stereotypes of American study abroad students, I must admit that I was personally offended. I at first was confused as to why foreigners have so many judgments towards a country in which has been there to help many in times of need. However, after digging further into Slimbach’s careful analysis, I better understood these generalized connotations.
Unfortunately, the world is a place of suffering. The Western World remains very detached from that of poorer countries. Slimbach states, “Our tendency might be to file realities like these under the mental category of a distant “developing world”” (2010, p.21). Sadly, this issue is something in which not only young study abroad students are guilty of, but the majority of American citizens. It is easy for one to remove themselves from a situation if he or she is not seeing something first hand or are not directly affected by it. Because of this, several students go abroad with the notion that these sufferings are not something in which they need to concerns themselves with. They may convince themselves that their one helping action cannot create a wave of change or improvement. Partly due to this incorrect mindset, the American study abroad experience can become very egocentric.
For many, traveling is a once in a lifetime experience. People spend years of saving, countless minimum wage jobs, and hours of planning in order to collect a stamp over seas. Because of this, it is often easy to lose sight of the depth that one’s presence can have on the Global community; instead, we focus on the excitement of finally visiting the places in which we have internalized as dream-like destinations with no imperfections. As a result of this lack of feeling responsible to be active in the global community, American students remain unchanged from this once in a lifetime experience. “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” (2010, p.35). Old habits remain the same, old rituals are continued to be practiced, old friends still surround us. At this point, study abroad is just a home-away-from-home, failing to serve the true purpose of educational travel.
Although I do not believe that my study abroad experience has been wasted away by egocentric and habitual experiences, I am guilty of some of these accusations. Regardless of my efforts to fully emerge into the Italian culture and spend my free time with locals, I am only doing this most of the time. During the rest of my time, I am hanging out with my American friends, using up my cellular data until I receive a text message stating that I’ve gone over my plan (unfortunately I know this text message fairly well), and eagerly planning weekend trips abroad. In order to discourage this stereotype of study abroad students, I believe I need to get more involved—it is not enough just to be here and frequently speak the language. Slimbach suggests, “Much depends on how we position ourselves in relation to the community groups—as listeners more than talkers, learners more than teachers, and facilitators more than leaders” (2010, p. 33). At home, young-adults are encouraged to be leaders, being promised special recognition if leadership roles are acquired. However, while abroad, we are not the experts. In order to effectively be a part of the Global community, we must learn from and understand the locals living in our temporary homes. This comes from sincere full body and mind presence, allowing oneself to be of use to others. The shift from egocentric to altruistic opens the doors to reality and the Global community.
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning (Stylus Publishing, LLC., 2010).