Adventures Abroad: Stereotypes of the States

This column is the fourth in a Life&Style series exploring the study abroad experiences of students from around the 5Cs. The entries will be widely varying in style and topic depending on each student's particular perspective, serving as an extension of the writers' accompanying study abroad blogs. This week's column comes to us from Brisbane, Australia courtesy of Megan Lewis SC '12.

One of the major parts of studying abroad is experiencing what it is like to be an American outside of the United States. Australia shares many aspects of American culture, so I haven’t had too much trouble with culture shock, but the fact remains that, as an American student, I sometimes stick out like a sore thumb.

I have an accent. This means I'm aware that whenever I speak, others automatically know I am American (or possibly Canadian, I suppose). Even if the person I am talking to doesn’t comment on this or interact with me any differently, I still know that they know I am not Australian and that they might apply to me any stereotypes they may have about Americans. We all know that there are a lot of these, no matter where you are in the world! And while I don’t necessarily act any differently because of these stereotypes or preconceptions, I am always aware in the back of my mind that I am in a sense “representing” Americans, so I often try to act just a little more friendly or politely than I might otherwise. The majority of the time, however, no one comments on my nationality or seems to treat me any differently.

The times that they do, however, are frequently both illuminating and hilarious. Over the past several months, the following comments have surprised and intrigued me:

1. Upon meeting me and learning where I am from, my Australian flatmate’s friend asked, “So doesn’t everyone in America carry a gun?” I quickly assured him that that is not the case, although gun laws are strikingly more strict here that it may seem that way in comparison.

2. A guy I met at a bar who was trying to hit on me—but failing horribly—asked if I see movie stars all the time. Again, I quickly assured him that is not the case.

3. On a trip once, when a couple friends and I went into a café to order coffee, the owner of the shop said he didn’t like Americans and proceeded to tell us a story about some rude Texans who had visited his café. We agreed that some Americans definitely can be rude, but hopefully we demonstrated that Americans can be quite polite and friendly.

4. Riding in the elevator while on my way to class one morning, a guy came in and asked how I was. Immediately upon my reply of, “I’m good, how are you?” he said, “American?” I guess my accent really is that obvious, or perhaps this response is so distinctly American that it gave me away.

5. When I told a cashier at a store that I was from California, he asked if I was a vegetarian: definitely not!

Overall, my interactions with Australians have been positive—or at the very least nothing at which to take offense—and these examples are only rare examples of stereotyping in my dozens of interactions with Australians each day. Some people are really interested in learning about where I’m from, and it’s a great conversation starter. Being an “other” hasn’t really presented much of a challenge, and I don’t feel excluded by any means. It's all just a part of the experience of studying abroad!

For more about Megan's experience in Australia, go to theviewfromdownunder.wordpress.com

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