Be better than your stereotype

By: Elizabeth Sawka

Opinion Contributor

If you’re considering studying abroad, go abroad.  If you are afraid to study abroad, go abroad.  Walk down to the study abroad office in the basement of Frisch and talk to Nicole Calamunci.  She will find you a program. If she can’t find you a program that sounds exciting to you, then you have never experienced excitement, and it’s a new feeling for you.  She can help with that too.

While abroad not only are you representing Canisius College, but most importantly you’re representing yourself.  Stereotypes are ugly and I could write an entire piece about them, but for now I’m discussing how to avoid being labeled an “Ugly” American.

If you’re in a country where English is not the primary language and you don’t speak the primary language, count yourself lucky if they speak to you in the language. You’ve been mistaken for a native, and that’s the best compliment you can receive while living abroad.  If you don’t understand what they said and you need them to explain in English, apologize before you ask them to explain.  It is very important that you apologize.  You’re in a foreign country and you’re asking someone to speak your language.  There’s nothing wrong with asking for clarification, but if their accent is hard to understand or their English isn’t perfect, continue to treat them with respect.  Don’t get upset if their accent is thick—not only are you being a rude American, you’re also being a rude human.

If you order something in a restaurant and the food your waiter brings is not what you expected, eat it.  If you don’t like it, get over it.  As long as your waiter didn’t make a mistake and bring you the wrong dish, there is no reason for you to complain.  Being a foreigner in a new country is very similar to being a guest in someone’s home.  If you are invited to dinner and you don’t like what is being served, you would not ask your host to make you something else.  If you’re nervous about not liking the food, ask your server for suggestions or research before you travel.  If you still don’t like the food after researching and getting a personal suggestion, at least you succeeded in broadening your horizons.  Congratulations.

I promise that no matter where you study abroad the Wi-Fi sucks. As long as you are able to send the occasional “I’m alive” message on WhatsApp to your family, you’ll be fine. When you can’t get a good signal, go for a walk. Find a new restaurant in your city. Don’t complain about the Wi-Fi because you’re abroad and this is a truly wonderful experience. You still have an experience even if you don’t upload any photos to Facebook or Instagram. Your Facebook newsfeed will be waiting for you, but your time abroad is limited. Do not be like the girl I sat next to in class and complain about how “at least Wi-Fi works in America.” America has a lot to offer, but I have yet to find pizza as good as in Florence.  I have my priorities.

Be conscious that Americans can dress in gym attire without attracting attention for it, but in most other countries, they dress more nicely. You can wear gym clothes everyday abroad if you want to, but keep in mind you’re putting a target on your back.  Don’t be surprised when street vendors follow you and try convincing you to buy a watch, lighter, etc..

Don’t ask people at the bar for directions to your apartment.  Have fun, but don’t lose track of yourself while you’re bar hopping and put yourself in a dangerous situation.  The loud, drunk American is a stereotype following you abroad and this is arguably the worst version of the ‘Ugly’ American to embody.  Not only is it embarrassing that you look naïve, it’s also dangerous.  Look up the places you want to go beforehand and make sure you always know how to get home from where you are.

If you study in a walking city, don’t complain about walking. You’ll walk a lot more than your usual five minute trek from Dugan to Old Main for class, but there is no better way to get to know a city than to spend a day walking in it.  If plopped back on Via Maggio in Florence I could walk to my school, my favorite writing spots, and to the best pizza in Florence (again, priorities) without consulting a map.  Feeling comfortable walking in a foreign city is the true test if you made yourself a home abroad and that’s the whole point of studying—finding a new home.

Living abroad is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and it could be the best decision you ever make.  So go make the decision and travel as the best version of yourself.


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