In Chapter 1 of Becoming World Wise, Slimbach writes about the stereotype that has formed of an American student studying abroad: “pampered twenty-somethings who leave home with little preparation…who then carry back to campus assorted symbolic symbols of having ‘been there’…but little of the new cultural knowledge, language ability, and perspective change that marks a well-traveled mind.” I do believe that this stereotype, while it does not apply to all study abroad students, has some truth to it.
Most study abroad students are going through a program with people from their home country, and therefore spend a lot of time with them. This can be a crutch in a way, especially when meeting and befriending people in your host country may not be that easy. This leads to the attitude that study abroad students only hang out with each other. There are also places that are sometimes known for being typical hang out spots for study abroad students. For example there is a pub/club in London called O’Neill’s, which has become well known as the place for study abroad students to go, especially on a Thursday night. Study abroad students also do a lot of weekend traveling outside of their host country, sometimes just visiting a city for 24 hours. This can lead to the attitude that study abroad students only come to places like Europe to go to tourist spots and take photos that they can post to social media for their family and friends to see. So while they can say they are there, they aren’t really there.
I think any study abroad student can find themselves guilty of some of these things, and although I am trying my best to stray from that stereotype I can sometimes feel myself doing some of those things. I do spend a lot of time with the girls I live with, who are also American like me, but then again I do also try to reach out and make friends with the people I meet at school or just while out and about. And when it comes to trips, I am not spending every weekend in a new city, nor am I spending ludicrously short amounts of time in the places I plan to travel to. I just visited Stockholm and Gothenburg, Sweden and I was there for three full days, exploring the city and brushing up on some Swedish words. Over time, I got to know the area of the city we were staying in and the streets began looking familiar towards the end of our trip. My friends and I also got to know an Australian girl who was sharing our room in the hostel, and we now have that connection. In addition to that, I recently went to a concert by myself in London and connected with an English girl as well as a group of Spanish girls who traveled to see the show. I think branching out and showing that study abroad students want to make friends and are interested in other cultures helps break the stereotype.
Also, I know that there is always the urge to call home and that homesickness can creep up at anytime, so the comforts of fellow Americans and Facetiming home are very alluring. But we are here to break out of our comfort zones and become immersed in our home culture. So while my friends may be calling home more than once a week, I try to fight the urges and stick to a less rigid schedule. I think that in general, study abroad students could help break the stereotypes and attitudes others have towards them if they just showed a more visible effort to break away from the comforts of home and show they are less concerned with showing off their travels and more concerned with really experiencing the places they are visiting. I think students could also get more involved in things like volunteer work or clubs at their host universities in order to show that they are willing to be a part of the bigger global community instead of just being a passive presence. While I don’t think I am the perfect study abroad student, I do think I am trying my best to stray away from the stereotypes and become a bigger part of the global community.