So you’ve been on Study Abroad a couple of months now. You’ve developed your routine, made new friends, and traveled a bit. Your language might have improved some. You’ve made sense of many of the ‘foreign’ things going on around you that at first made you uncomfortable. So what are the assumptions and judgments you’re holding onto about the people and place abroad now?
We all do it. We assume things, judge, and then make huge generalizations and stereotypes. On Study Abroad it’s easy to make up stories about everything and everyone that may or may not be true. You can tell it’s happening when you start a sentence with “The Spanish/Swedes/Chinese are so…” and fill in the blank! Sometimes these might be positive statements, but more often than not they are negative. Fellow students may share your view and corroborate your experience, which makes the story snowball.
On the surface these judgments may seem like harmless observations, but they can have consequences. Your assumptions shape how you see the world around you and how you ultimately treat the people you meet on Study Abroad. The story you’ve made up about them could make it difficult to relate to the locals and ultimately you might isolate yourself from them.
Ironically if you want to improve your language skills or have a longer-term connection to the place you’re studying, having local friends could be really important. As Marshall McLuhan said, “Most of our assumptions have outlived their uselessness.”
In Study U Abroad I talk a lot about how to catch yourself before the story starts. Challenge your assumptions and judgments by turning them around. What if the complete opposite were actually true? Look for examples and continue to challenge your story.