About one month has elapsed since I returned from my trip to London, and I am still struggling to digest it all. In order to cross as many activities off our bucket list as possible, we all possessed an on the go mentality, leaving our itinerary packed and free time to process our experiences scarce. However, after resuming life in America, I have finally begun to realize the valuable impacts it has left me with.
The greatest takeaway from my three weeks on the Fulbright Institute is a better understanding -and in some cases defiance- of existing stereotypes. The truth is, in today’s society everyone holds certain stereotypes, consciously or not. We have been molded based on our culture, experiences, and geographic locations to possess certain beliefs, which though likely founded in some truth, may or may not be fully representative of reality. However, living in another country, particularly during the Olympics, provided the opportunity to meet individuals of several nationalities and hear first hand about what life is really like in their respective countries. Even the students from America had differences to share, as socioeconomic and religious disparities resulted in significant dissimilarities in the way we were raised. These interactions forced me to reevaluate some existing stereotypes I held, leaving with a better understanding and respect for other cultures, countries, and people.
However, the trip also provided an opportunity to view America through a foreigner’s perspective. One stereotype associated with America is our strong nationalistic culture, which is sometimes perceived as being self-centered or ignorant. As a known world power with significant influence, I do not think it is uncommon to notice sentiments of superiority among Americans. A commonly cited example of this is our media. Most news outlets overwhelmingly focus coverage on activities that either occur in the United States or events abroad that impact our country. Of course these issues are of tremendous importance, but it seems that other countries’ new sources produce more worldly reportage. For instance, many complained that US Olympic coverage was so focused on American athletes that heroic and groundbreaking accomplishments of other competitors went unreported. Having been able to observe both BBC and NBC coverage, I personally noticed a similar disparity both in the Olympics and regular news reporting. Furthermore, I did notice that I was less privy on certain discussions related to integral European events than some of my classmates from other countries.
Although patriotism is vital, it is important to realize that every country would be well suited in adopting some of the policies and practices of other nations. For example, though New York and other major cities boast impressive transportation structures, they pale in comparison to London’s navigable and extensive system, which has some lines leaving as frequently as every 15 seconds. In fact, to my surprise some Europeans view America as being unconcerned about the environment, and compared to the UK, the US seems behind in sustainability practices. In addition to mass transportation, London and other major cities posses extensive bike sharing systems, which are only beginning to be adopted here. Moreover, cars tend to be much smaller in Europe, with SUV spottings being a rarity.
There is nothing comparable to the pride I took in being able to wrap myself in an American flag and sing along to our National Anthem as it filled Wimbley Stadium. But, I now also realize that there is much America needs to improve upon. Studying abroad does not just teach a student about a specific topic, or give insight into the education system in another country; it provides an immersive experience to really learn about the world beyond one’s comfort zone. Despite stereotypes or a country’s GDP, there are always things that it can teach and learn from others.