During my time studying abroad, I have found that stereotypes follow us like our shadows. No matter your appearance or personality, these rumors somehow stick, and become part of ones identity. While these exaggerations can be harmful or offensive to students, IES Abroad explains that, “There can be misconceptions about people but most have a layer of truth behind them.” (Baldwin Web). Looking at the stereotypes that portray Americans and Australians, I am confident these rumors come from media outlets.
The most common one we face as Americans is that we are “fat and throw extreme Hollywood parties.” Australians are always making jokes about our diets and how all Americans do is party. These stereotypes come from Hollywood, where movies like Project X heavily exaggerate American parties. However, I do not think study abroad students help repair the damaged image we have among the rest of the world. A majority of kids studying abroad to treat it as one big party, focusing on what they are going to do on a Friday night rather than the other aspects of the study abroad environment around them. Kids go out and spend tons of money on huge drinks that are extremely unhealthy and costly. When Australians constantly see young Americans indulging in these excessive meals and out of control drinks, they believe the “fat and heavy partiers” stereotype they’ve seen on television.
I do think that, in a way, these stereotypes do fill a void in worldly knowledge. Because it may not be a common place to know how people eat and socially interact in foreign countries, people often turn to film and television in order to learn the aspects of another culture they may not be able to find themselves. If an Australian were watching American media, then it would completely make sense why they would generalize how Americans act.
This also works conversely, with Americans making assumptions and believing stereotypes about Australians. The most common one is that all Australians are very fit and surf all day long. While a majority of Australians are generally in very good shape, and an even larger number surfs, Australia is still struggling with obesity. The government here is actually trying to put legislation in place that would help fight childhood obesity in schools, just like the United States.
I have learned that while stereotypes can apply to a large population, it can still hurt other members of the community who do not fit that stereotype. It gives them a reputation that doesn’t fit their character, which could stunt or hinder their growth. I believe that the study abroad environment is the best place to learn to look past stereotypes. Slimbach writes, “ As educational travelers, our first and perhaps most challenging task us to allow our host culture to become a place where we can struggle against the fictional self that is revealed through feelings of ignorance, inadequacy, and childlike dependence.” (Slimbach LOC 1094). I interpret that as we face these stereotypes head on in an unfamiliar environment. In the United States, we know the truth about what is around us, but that truth can almost blend a group of individuals into one. When we reach our host countries, we are an individual facing the stereotypes head on, tearing away at the fictional beings we were back home and creating an individual who does not have a “childlike dependence” like we would back home to our molded groups. After we face the ignorance and realize our self worth, we are able to come home to the United States as mature adults and individual thinkers who do not just fit the mold of a basic American.
The picture below is from a bar that about 90 percent of my program has visited. They specialize in extravagant drinks and massive meals that draw in tourists. I believe that being in places like this perpetuate the American
Baldwin, K. (2014, December 16). The Power of Stereotypes. Retrieved March 01, 2017, from https://www.iesabroad.org/study-abroad/blogs/baldwkegmailcom/power-stereotypes#sthash.mbiEe5oP.dpbs
Slimbach, R. (2010). Becoming world wise: a guide to global learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Pub., LLC. LOC1094