“How did you react to the perspectives on the United States that you encountered this week? What stood out the most to you? Why? How will that influence your thoughts or actions in the future- either here or abroad?”
Over the past few years, I have done a lot of research on studying abroad, and I have gained a lot of useful information and helpful tips. However, I’m not sure I have ever encountered a resource as useful as the discussion panels we had in class these last two weeks. There is nothing quite like listening to firsthand accounts and outside opinions when it comes to life experiences such as study abroad.
I was already aware that in practically every corner of the globe, there are some negative stereotypes that surround Americans. We are known for being loud, uncultured, and slightly obnoxious; and while those stereotypes may or may not be true, as an American I can definitely see where those perceptions come from. However, the various perspectives I heard over the past week made me pause and think for a moment. I had never considered that Americans might be perceived as rich in some parts of the world, nor had I considered the fact that some people believe that the United States is a dangerous country. There were numerous examples of perceptions that I had never even considered, or at least I did not think they would ever be an issue I had to deal with.
The most eye-opening experience was when we heard from the panel of international students who are currently studying here at OU. It seemed as though the list of cultural differences they had experienced while in America was never-ending. They touched on practically every aspect of life from religion, race, clothing, facial expressions, and even sidewalks—the changes they experienced during their time here were both minor and major differences that definitely affected them ever minute of every day. Hearing the experiences of the international students here at OU made me think about the kinds of differences I will experience during my time abroad. Of course there will be cultural discrepancies, language barriers, and religious differences wherever I go, but I had never spent much time considering how the little things in life would affect me on a daily basis. Life in America is not the same as life in other countries.
Ultimately, the discussions on the perceptions of Americans in a global setting allowed me to consider what sorts of differences I will experience abroad and how my identity as an American will affect how I will perceive those differences as well as how I will be perceived by others. The fact that everyday life will be so different both excites me and makes me feel slightly overwhelmed in the best kind of way possible. That feeling of being so shocked by the differences and so over-run by them will be a challenge, but that experience will allow me to grow as a person and to learn how to adapt to new situations.