The most important aspect in studying abroad is to keep an open mind: to keep yourself free from any bias and prejudice and to be willing to completely immerse yourself into new environments and cultural differences. However, this is something that is much easier in theory than in practice because stereotypes are ingrained into cultures.
My first night in Paris, my host father wanted to create an open dialogue of what preconceptions of Paris my roommate and I had. As two females from the United States, we replied with the stereotypes which have surrounded us our entire lives: baguettes, poodles, romance, berets, etc. Our host-family replied with laughter and astonishment, “Berets?!” and explained that berets are common in northern France, but not so much here, except sometimes when women want to look tres chic. This was a stereotype they had never heard before.
My roommate posed the same question: what stereotypes did they have of Americans? It was simple, flowing from our host father’s mouth as if he had rehearsed it in the mirror: they don’t eat breakfast. C’est tout. We were at a loss of what to say, expecting to be met with Americans being loud or big, not our breakfast habits. To us, this seemed as absurd as berets did to our host family. In this experience, we were able to discuss the origin of the stereotypes and subtle the misconceptions we had about each other.
With this, I have created some tips and tricks to overcome stereotypes you or your host family may have about one another:
- Try to come in with an open mind. Nothing is ever how you expect it to be, so try to push aside preconceptions about the country or its people.
- Create an open dialogue. Discuss the stereotypes you have, and ask what their stereotypes of you are. This provides an opportunity to learn about their culture and to teach yours. You’ll find this is a funny and engaging way to break down barriers.
- Learn to accept the differences. Stereotypes come from not knowing a culture, or demonizing the differences. By accepting your noted differences, you can prevent stereotypes from forming in the future.
- Educate others. The hardest part in overcoming stereotypes abroad is when I would talk to my friends and family and they would ask me about frog legs or snails, if the French people shower or wear deodorant, etc. This is a crucial moment for you because you have the opportunity to apply your new knowledge of culture and breakdown stereotypes globally. *Pro-tip: asking why they think various stereotypes are true is a great way to begin the conversation.
Overcoming stereotypes is hard, whether it is on your part or on the part of someone else. However, clearing the air of prejudices only enhances your study abroad experience and allows you to keep your mind open.
The world awaits…discover it.