The world is filled with gazillions of different perspectives, and this week my eyes were opened to many that I had not considered before. Starting with the visit from the international students, I realized that I had a somewhat narrow-minded approach to what I would gain through study abroad. Of course, I had always considered the fact that I would encounter cultural confusion, different perspectives, etc. However, listening to them speak firsthand about their experiences really opened my eyes to the reality of all the perspectives in our world. For instance, I asked the international students if there was ever a time where they felt that they “had to be an ambassador for their country” or “dismiss erroneous stereotypes.” They all immediately said “yes,” and jumped into explaining the idea that many people had immediate reactions/preconceived notions about the origins of the students. For example, a student from France said that there is a “romantic, ooooh-la-la” vibe that many associate with her country. All of the students, said that many Americans assumed certain characteristics to fit their entire nations. Obviously, this is not the case, and the students said that they felt obligated to demonstrate the opposite, that they do not fit their stereotype.
As there are many perspectives on all countries, I am sure that I will encounter people who stereotype all Americans. Upon encountering this, I hope that I am able to handle it as gracefully as the international students who spoke to us seemed to be able to do. I will encourage others to accept cultural differences, as I strive to do the same.
What stood out to me most, however, was when I realized that not all stereotypes are entirely derived from misinformation or ignorance. As I began to think about it, I realized that I have been guilty of (intrinsically) stereotyping international students that I have met. Now, obviously, I am not outward or ignorant about expressing these thoughts, but the fact that they are somehow embedded in my mind surprises/scares/shocks me. How do I remove this instantaneous judgement from my mind?? It is certainly not something that I want to continue to possess during my college career or time abroad. Acknowledging these embedded judgements are the first step to eliminating them, so here I go!
Recently, my GEF class did a unique activity in which we portrayed issues of culture shock, and the ever-so-cliche “judging a book by its cover.” In the activity, several of my classmates went out in the hallway. They were instructed to come into the classroom, where the rest of us remained, and pretend like we were a new country. We were supposed to ignore them when they asked us questions, except if they had certain physical characteristics. I really enjoyed the Outsiders activity. I believe that it is easier than it should be to fall into the trap of judging those that are from other countries. Also, despite the best efforts of many to remain neutral and open-minded to other cultures and views, it is easy to shut oneself off from people that are from different backgrounds and cultures. Moving forward, I plan to remind myself how my classmates felt during the exercise. They were frustrated when it became difficult for them to communicate with others, much like what would happen in the real world. While this exercise did not necessarily change my perspectives or plans, I think that it is an important idea to keep in the back of my mind, both when I’m abroad and in the United States.
Throughout the past few weeks of exploring different study abroad opportunities, where I want to travel to has changed several times. Coming into college, my original plan was to do a semester in Spain (probably Barcelona or Madrid), and a summer somewhere undecided, but probably in Europe. After the study abroad fair, I was certain that I wanted to do the Honors College’s program at Oxford for the semester, then do my summer in Spain. However, after meeting with my Study Abroad advisor this past week, I feel like I am finally somewhat settled on where I want to go. My current plan is to do a semester in Spain, most likely Seville because they have a business-specific program, where my OU tuition wavers could be applied. This would give me the opportunity to gain fluency in Spanish and to travel throughout Europe as well. I plan to do my summer study abroad experience in somewhere non-Europe, perhaps one of the OU Journey Programs. I am very interested in the Journey to China Program. How many people get to say that they have been to China?! After exploring other options aside from what is offered in Europe (especially through the Journey programs), I now know that I would like to do my summer elsewhere.
Is it possible that maybe the only reason that I ever wanted to go to college is so that I would have the opportunity to study abroad? Hmm, probably not. However, the past few weeks have made me more excited than ever to study abroad. I mentioned in my last post that I was excited to learn about all of the opportunities and places that I would be able to visit, and today…I DID THAT!!! Today I went to the Study Abroad Fair and got to meet representatives from many of the study abroad programs offered through OU. I talked to Shanna Vincent about OU’s Journey Program to China. This would take place for 3-4 weeks over the summer. I spoke with several different representatives from longer programs that travel to other Asian countries. It made me want to pick up Chinese as a second language. Maybe someday! I think that the OU Journey trip to China would be a good way to travel to Asia, and potentially motivate me to study Chinese as a third language eventually.
Additionally, I was intrigued by the vast quantity of programs that traveled to Australia. I had no idea that Australia was such a hub for study abroad adventures, but the idea was surely intriguing. I also learned about the study abroad opportunity to Oxford for students in OU’s Honors College. With this opportunity, you are able to complete Capstone classes necessary to graduate with an OU Honors diploma at Oxford. This sounds like a great opportunity abroad, however I would like to travel to a country that doesn’t speak English. Or more specifically, a country that speaks my target language, Spanish. Moving forward, I plan to do some further research on programs to England. I am very interested in British culture, yet it is important to me that I do my semester abroad in a country that speaks predominantly another language. Maybe I will be able to find a summer program in Britain. That would be the best of both worlds! Right now, my biggest problem is that I have too many options. That seems like a good problem to have.
P.S. I’m not saying that it was the best part, or anything like that, but I DID get a free snow cone at the study abroad fair, so that was a plus.
In case you’re unfamiliar, I initially started this blog as a requirement for my “Global Engagement Fellowship.” This is a program that not only funds study abroad opportunities, but is also a unique group of people with varied backgrounds, majors, and hobbies who all hold interest in international affairs and global travel. In addition to being a Global Engagement Fellow, I am also enrolled in a Gateway Class comprised of only “GEFs.” For the past two weeks of class, I have been engaged in conversation with many people from various places around the United States in my Global Engagement community. Even more exciting was having the opportunity to hear from upperclassmen Fellows about their experiences at OU, and their time in this diverse GEF community.
Initially I thought that the study abroad opportunities offered by this program would be the most valuable, but the community within the program has been integral to my first few weeks of school. All of the people in my seminar class, as well as the other Fellows that I have met, have been engaging, interesting, and supportive. Nonetheless, I am extremely excited to have the opportunity to study abroad. I am increasingly interested in the three week summer programs that have been discussed. Perhaps these would give me the opportunity to travel to more countries. I am also looking forward to my semester abroad. While the idea of spending almost twenty weeks out of the United States makes me somewhat nervous, I am still looking forward to this daring and unique opportunity.
Hearing other Fellows discussing where they have been on study abroad, or where they want to go, opens my mind to places that I have never considered studying abroad. For the past few years, I have thought that I would study abroad in Spain. However, there are so many unique opportunities outside of Europe that perhaps I had never considered. My seminar class had the opportunity to hear from one upperclassman who had studied abroad in Columbia. While I never considered this as an option, I definitely plan on looking into it now. I am so excited to discover and explore the wide range of possibilities that are available through The University of Oklahoma.
The best advice that I have received thus far is to not get “too involved.” I think that I made this mistake in high school and was not able to give all of my organizations the attention that they needed or deserved. I plan on attending many club meetings and finding out which ones are truly “for me.” If I am not whole-heartedly enjoying my club, or if it is distracting from my studies, then I will no longer participate in that club. It’s as simple as that!