So I wanted to talk about something that came to mind while doing every day things. Every day things can be but are not restricted to: grocery shopping, eating at a restaurant, traveling about the towns, buying school supplies. Whether we as Americans or English speakers want to admit it or not, we have something I like to call, English or American Privilege.
You might be thinking, “It’s not my fault that everywhere I go, people speak some english.” No, you’re right, it’s not. BUT it is our fault that we let that thought rule our everyday lives abroad. Since we know that most people may understand some English and we may say, “They know we’re American, they’ll try to communicate because I’m in their country.” This is why we have English/American Privilege.
Let’s consider changing that way of thinking. Studying abroad and traveling is not supposed to be comfortable, that’s part of the adventure. Studying and traveling abroad is about learning something, having a life experience, and immersing in “the other side” – a different culture.
We live in a great country, some may even say we are the greatest country. While I have great pride and respect for my country, Greeks live in Greece, Italians live in Italy, the Japanese live in Japan, and Africans live in Africa. Did it ever occur to us as individuals that natives of those countries may just think that their country is the greatest because of their accomplishments? Part of those accomplishments is their language and their customs. While we are abroad we owe it to those countries we are in to speak their language and obey their customs.
Americans have some stereotypes that have been pressed upon them. We, as travelers have an obligation to break those stereotypes. We have the right to be proud of where we come from, we should never have to hide who we are, that’s not the point of this post. The point, is to be proud, polite, and willing to open our minds to the culture surrounding us.
I once heard an instructor of mine say that he went abroad and was ashamed of being an American. How disappointing is that to hear? He was ashamed of where he came from when we should be proud of who we are. We as individuals have the power to change that feeling. We as Americans, one by one, can change a stereotype. It took many to build these stereotypes, a long wave of people acting a certain way in certain places. How do we counteract that? A long wave of new people acting a new way in new places.
How many problems could we solve if we just learned to appreciate other people and places? How humbling would it be to intake with an open mind, things that are foreign and uncomfortable to us?
I want to leave you with an example of this…
I made a friend from Iran. What are we taught as Americans to think about the country of Iran and the people from those areas? Probably not positive things. We are taught many times that the situation between that region and America is black and white. After talking to him about where he is from, their people, feelings toward the United States, and his life at home – I can assure you there is more white than black, there is more light than darkness. It only took me to WANT to know, and WANT to ask. I have now made a great friend, I have now bridged a gap – just by having a conversation and asking questions.