As much as I wish the stereotype of the loud, lazy and ignorant American weren’t so true, the sad reality is that there are A LOT of people that fit that category. Even people that are decent, nice people at home turn into these pretentious “I’m better than you even though I know nothing about you” tourists when they go abroad. And then we wonder why the rest of the world would prefer we just stay home.
For me, this was something I was absolutely going to be aware of when I went abroad. I had the chance to study abroad twice as an undergraduate—once in England and once in Chile—and both times I had to find myself constantly telling people “we’re not all like that” whenever we ran into these walking stereotypes.
But all is not lost! The first step to avoiding leaving such a bad impression on people and really having the chance to interact with and get to know locals is to be aware that this stereotype is out there and will likely be something you will run into at some point.
Step 2—educate yourself!! Not just about who the president is, what the neighboring countries are and what language is spoken, but really educate yourself. Who are the people living in this country? What are the issues that they deal with on a daily basis and as a country? What are their thoughts on the big issues going on around the world? One place to start for these answers is http://www.world-newspapers.com . This is a GREAT resource to actually be able to read local newspapers and magazines either in the local language or translated into English. You can get a sense of what people are actually thinking and what those big issues (or even just local celebrity gossip) are that you should be aware of, even if they’re just local. You’ll be surprised how people react when they know that you’ve taken the time to learn something about them, and who knows, maybe they’ll let you in on a conversation and you’ll actually learn something. =)
– Stephanie Roberts, DUSA Peer Advisor