I have been viewing clips and reading articles about foreign perspectives on the United States (by people who have traveled here) in both my Global Engagement class and my Understanding the Global Community lecture, and the comments that affected me most were the ones made by our four international student guests last week. They mentioned things that I expected, such as our over-consumption (of more than just food), the prevalence of fast-food restaurants, the overwhelming amount of vehicles and fast-paced lifestyle, and even the fact that people here tend to be stressed all the time, no matter their economic or social circumstances. Those things didn’t surprise me and were even interesting to hear as they were validated by people who had experienced a very different life growing up.
What bothered me was the way they emphasized our ignorance towards just about anything outside the comforts of our “America.” The student from Cameroon explained that anytime she was asked where she was from, she would answer, and her response would be followed by uneducated or unmannered questions about the existence of such a place or the location of such an odd-sounding country (“Is that a country?” they would ask her). Also, Merima (who is in my English class this semester) brought up the aloof demeanor of the people she would pass by on campus and how, as the foreigner, she was having to initiate the conversations. It seems that along with our international illiteracy, we’re guilty of being a little narcissistic, and we probably don’t even realize it or see our behavior that way.
I admit that I probably have these qualities, too, but I believe that through hearing people talk about them and reading about the stereotype of people from the United States, I can change the way I act and think and help to create a new one. I think it’s very disrespectful that we aren’t more mindful of the happenings and cultures of other countries; it’s as though we’ve discounted their existence through our apathy, and then when they reach out to us, we continue to feign superiority and justify our ignorance somehow. Of course, this is a generalization, but it is unfortunately true.