Just as eager as you will be to learn about the residents of your host location, they will be eager to learn about you. And just as you have stereotypes and expectations of your host location, you’ll bear the burden of similar stereotypes and expectations. In this section, we’ll refer to “Americans,” in this context, meaning students from the United States, but you can certainly insert any other nationality in its place.
By traveling abroad as an American you are more than a student studying abroad for a semester. You are the face of the United States and may be the first point of contact with American culture for a foreign citizen. This is an immense responsibility that requires sensitivity and tact on your part.
Keep in mind that topics like politics, geography, pop culture, world events, crime, etc. will come up and people will be interested in what you have to say. Additionally, regardless of your political beliefs or (in)ability to change global politics, people may address you as if you were personally responsible for political decisions made by the United States government. This is part of being an American citizen/resident abroad and though you may not feel like you must defend every choice our celebrities or government makes, being able to articulate to others how our system of government works or why something is culturally relevant will be a useful skill to develop.
Americans often do not have command of a second or third language, unlike many of our counterparts around the globe. Additionally, Americans generally have a poor ear for identifying languages and (in English) accents. If you are in a location where English is not widely spoken, you may find yourself in uncomfortable positions of feeling lost or overwhelmed. Never fear, this is where life skills and personal growth develop. Everyone who’s been abroad for a long period undoubtedly returns home with stories of having to pantomime their requests at grocery stores or explain an idea or concept repeatedly to their host family in varying vocabulary.
Don’t be surprised if locals in your new location will be able to immediately identify you as an American even before they hear you speak. There are loads of telltale signs of Americans abroad. Though you may not have an eye for spotting your fellow Americans right away, by the end of your time in your host location you too will be able to pick your fellow countrymen out of a crowd!
- Ugly American Sentiment Abroad—Article by American travel writer Rick Steves on bucking the stereotypical American traveler perception.
- So, You’re an American?—Guide from the US Department of State designed to help Americans abroad navigate difficult cross-cultural conversations.
- Americans Studying Abroad—Advice article from Go Abroad on mistakes not to make while on your program.