Typically, American travelers often seem to be depicted as self-absorbed and uninterested in the culture of their host countries. This is especially true of the study abroad student stereotype. Many people see the American study abroad student as one who travels in a group with their fellow American students, taking pictures and partying. It is not surprising to me that this stereotype has developed, as many study abroad experiences wind up being an extended vacation instead of a cultural immersion. I know that here in Australia, many of us stick out—we may look the same and even speak the same language, but as soon as someone speaks everyone around us instantly knows who we are. Fellow lift riders in my building have often asked me: “are you an American student at Bond?” before I even open my mouth. I am not sure if it is my clothing, my backpack, or the fact that I am a 20-year-old living in a 5-star serviced apartment/hotel that gives me away. I know I am not living the life of a typical Aussie Uni student—the only other residents in my building are wealthy young businesspeople. Many of my local classmates live at home or in apartments in the suburbs, not in the city on the water.
At a school like Bond, it is very easy to, as Adam Weinberg notes, “’(at best) simply get the American college experience in a different time zone’” (Slimbach 36). Watching many of my fellow study abroad students, Slimbach’s interpretation could not be more accurate. I watch many people walking quickly down the street, looking at the ground with music blaring in their headphones and can almost immediately tell they are an American. I have to constantly remind myself to slow down, look up, and take my headphones out when someone else enters the elevator, because initiating a “good day?” can lead to some amazing stories and advice (like the hidden gem of a hike that someone told me about while I was standing in the lobby today).
In an effort to display global responsibility, I am trying to engage with the locals more. I am reminding myself that no cultural differences are “better” or “worse”, but rather “different” and intended to be embraced. To defeat this stereotype, we need to express a desire to learn as much as we can about our host countries, and resist comparing things to home. We need to resist the comfort of our foreigner friend groups and attempt to mirror the way the locals live. Most importantly, we need to consistently express respect and gratitude toward our host culture and country for welcoming us into our temporary new homes. Slimbach expresses his optimism for the future of our generation and its actions to travel and better the world. So, as members of a generation that get a lot of disapproval from media and older generations, this is our time to prove them wrong. This is our time “to discover new places, embrace the unknown, and act in ways that hold out hope for the world” (Slimbach 28). Studying abroad is the perfect opportunity to do this.
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Pub., LLC, 2010. Print.