EDITORIAL: Are you ready to study abroad without embarrassing the rest of us?
Our View: Leaving the country is not an excuse to be a jerk.
Throughout the year — particularly during International Education Week this week — you will hear a lot about the benefits of studying abroad. Even we often have touted the benefits of international experiences.
But amidst all the pressure to take part in OU’s education abroad programs, one important caveat has been forgotten: Not everyone is ready to study abroad.
Simply put, there is a difference between a tourist vacation and a study-abroad experience. If all you want is the former, then simply take a couple weeks to visit another country.
If you want the latter, you must be ready to live like a native of the country you are visiting.
If you cannot do any of the following, then you are not ready to live abroad and represent OU and the U.S. to another culture:
1. Just because the country has a McDonald’s, doesn’t mean you have to eat there. Enough said.
2. Don’t make a scene; make an effort to assimilate. When things are difficult or don’t work like you expect, don’t make a scene. Use it as a learning experience and understand you made the mistake — not the other culture.
3. Spend time away from Americans. After all, isn’t that what you came for? It’s easier to hang out with others who speak your language and understand all your references, but you could be spending that time making friends from the country you are visiting and learning about their lives. After all, if you want to hang out with a bunch of Americans, you can do that at home for a lot less money.
4. You will not impress anyone with your drinking. Seriously, it’s not a competition. And most cultures you are likely to visit don’t treat alcohol the way we do in the U.S. Partying is fun and a good way to make more local friends, but if you drink to the point of hazy memories or blackout, you not only will put yourself at risk for assault or theft — you will encourage the depiction of Americans as loud, arrogant and obnoxious.
5. Have patience. Trains will run late, strikes will happen and you will make mistakes based on cultural or linguistic misunderstandings. That is part of the study-abroad experience and will result in great stories to bring home. If you can roll with it and adapt, the good experiences always will outshine the bad.
6. The American way is not the “right” way. Yes, it goes against every bit of American exceptionalism and individualism we’ve been taught, but you are in another people’s country now. It’s their culture, and you cannot expect it to change to accommodate you. You should make the effort to speak the language and understand the customs.
If you have trouble communicating, many people will be willing to help you. But simply assuming they all speak English and complaining signs are not in English only will engender annoyance or disgust.
Unless the customs violate your safety or your core beliefs, it’s only polite to cause the least disruption possible to any culture you live in for a while. Would you expect any less from a visitor to the U.S.?
7. Don’t flash the cash. Whether you’re living in a country with a similar economic situation to the U.S. or one that isn’t faring as well, it’s never beneficial to flash an expensive iPhone or a wad of currency around. Not only does it perpetuate the idea that Americans are spoiled and arrogant, it makes you a more likely target for theft.
On that note, be sure you understand the cultural norms about tipping servers in the country you visit. In some countries, not only is it not necessary, it can be taken as an insult.
8. If you don’t care, fake it — or leave. As part of your trip, you likely will visit the well-known monuments, buildings or artworks of the country you are visiting. These spaces and objects are more than just profile picture opportunities. Often, they are essential to that nation’s culture and identity.
So even when you find them incredibly boring or incomprehensible, make an effort to understand and appreciate them for what they are. At the very least, show enough respect to the people around you to treat those spaces with the reverence they deserve.
And remember: You don’t have to go. Don’t take “must-see” as a literal description. If you aren’t interested and can’t fake it, go get lunch instead.