One of the things that I have had to adjust to ever since coming to the States has been the occasionally extreme patriotism of Americans. Yes, I know it can get bad in the U.K as well, but seeing an American flag everywhere I look—in houses, entrances, buildings etc—on normal, non-holiday days, was something that I found very weird at first. Although I am used to it now, I think that this patriotism can lead to slight cultural bias.
I thought that while at Pitzer, which has such a diverse community and an especially large group of exchange students every semester, my classes wouldn’t be affected by this phenomenon. However, I recently experienced something that I found interesting enough to share with the world.
This semester I’m taking a world history class, and whenever the professors mention an important historical event, they typically give a short summary of what happened, no matter where it is in the world. One day, though, the event we were discussing was the American Revolution. I had never studied anything about the American Revolution before, but I didn’t think it would be a problem because I expected the teacher to give an outline of the events, just like the professors had been doing before. However, instead of giving a very quick recap, the professor lecturing skipped over it and said there was no need to go over it because everyone was supposed to have studied it.
I was slightly surprised, but thought perhaps there wouldn’t be a need for me to know much about the revolution and that it wouldn’t be mentioned again. Instead, the professor kept referencing the revolution, though, and by the end of the lecture, I felt a bit lost. When the class finished, I approached the professor and talked with her about this. Thankfully, she was very nice about the whole thing, and now every time she mentions something that is biased around America or American culture, she makes sure to explain it to everyone. But this incident really got me thinking: are other international students experiencing similar things?
I talked to some of my international friends, and one of them said that during one of her classes the professor kept talking about GPAs and other American things without explaining what they meant. She told me she felt the same way that I did, and that even though it only happened in that one class, it still made her feel like an outsider.
However, this cultural bias can also work the other way around. I had a talk with my friend, Sam, who’s also here from the U.K., and he told me during all of his classes, every time British current affairs are mentioned, both the professor and students turn to him. Although he understands that it is because he’s the only student from the U.K. in that class, it makes him feel singled out and uncomfortable.
One of the big parts of moving to another country, or studying in a different culture from your own, is the idea of integrating into that new culture. I was very prepared to integrate within the American culture and to become a part of it, even if just temporarily. But this experience made me think about how this process of integration is supposed to work. Should I adapt to the new culture or should my adopted culture meet me halfway in some instances? From what I’ve experienced, it seems like there are times where no matter how hard I try, I will feel alienated from the U.S. culture, and there are times when I just need my new culture to meet me halfway.