Slimbach is critical of American students studying abroad. He says that many of them gain “little of the new cultural knowledge, language ability, and perspective change that marks a well-traveled mind” (Slimbach 35-36). Slimbach has good reason for writing and thinking this. During the first days here in Barcelona, my professors had us brainstorm stereotypes that the Spanish have about Americans. They wanted us to recognize some of the negative expectations the locals would have of us in order to make sure we don’t prove them right. Some of the stereotypes and expectations included loud, ignorant, oblivious, and arrogant. During this activity I couldn’t help but think that when it comes to students studying abroad, these stereotypes aren’t that far off. My experience on the metro confirms that students tend to be much louder, in a disruptive way, than locals. Often my group of roommates will be talking octaves louder than anyone else on the metro, and I can tell it does not go unnoticed by the stares and disapproving looks of metro riders. Talking loudly isn’t hugely offensive, but I can tell by their attitudes that they don’t even notice that their volume turns them into spectacles on the metro, and in other settings. The inability to recognize this tells me that they aren’t even aware of the cultural difference. In this way, Slimbach is right in his opinion.
I do think that I may be guilty of some of Slimbach’s accusations myself. However, at halfway through my time here in Europe, I think I have become less and less guilty of such accusations. When I first arrived here, I think I definitely had more of the consumerist mentality. Right when I arrived I was a little outraged at the difficulty I experienced to find sheets and comforter. Thinking of the United States, I thought it was ridiculous that such items weren’t easily available to me. Now, when things aren’t so easily available to me I accept how things are just different here.
I think some ways that we, as students, can discourage this stereotype is to simply become more interested in the culture. Many students are just interested in partying in order to have a good time. Many of us think we are learning the culture of a country when we go to visit all the main tourist sites when we travel. Although tourist attractions aren’t bad, to truly learn a cultural we must go beyond. In order to put in this extra effort we need to be actually interested in learning the culture or the language. We can try to speak the local language to locals, even if we are afraid of being misunderstood.