On Being…

There’s more to it than just being an American! Students share their experiences sticking out in foreign countries.

LATINA-AMERICAN… IN FLORENCE AND GHANA

I felt like a minority in terms of race, nationality, and cultural habits (having Dominican-American cultural practices) in both Ghana and Florence, but not in a way that always made me feel negatively isolated. I was able to use my time abroad as a minority with a distinct cultural background as an opportunity for cross-cultural exchange. In Ghana, most people considered me closer to them culturally because I wasn’t white.  They called me “black” because I had a little more color than my white peers.

– Suhaly, Florence & Ghana

WHITE… IN SHANGHAI

Simple physical differences made me stick out. This was most apparent when our bus broke down going to the Great Wall. We were stranded in the middle of a market in a small village in the middle of nowhere. When I got out of the van, I felt like nobody had ever seen foreigners before.

Angelo, Shanghai

KOREAN-AMERICAN… IN PRAGUE

I stuck out. Almost everyone in the Czech Republic is, if not of Czech origin, European. I’ve never been more aware of being Asian than when I went to Prague. People would look at me funny on the subway, in restaurants, on the streets.

Joyce, Prague

INDIAN-AMERICAN… IN FLORENCE

I know I stuck out.

– Manoj, Florence

AFRICAN-AMERICAN… IN CHINA

While working on a documentary for the Shanghai School of the Blind, a student who was partially blind asked me, in Chinese, if I was African. It occurred to me that the Chinese people did not have a strong awareness of Black Americans or African-Americans. It was as if they just assumed that all dark-skinned people came straight from Africa. I tried my best to explain that I was not from Africa, but was a Black American.

– Jasmine, Shanghai

ASIAN-AMERICAN… IN LONDON

London is pretty diverse, so I never thought I stood out. Then one day, a guy who I was talking to asked me where I was from. I replied, “America.” He must have decided I didn’t understand his question because he asked where I was born. Again, I replied, “America.” At this point, he was really confused and said, “But you don’t look American.”

– Michelle, London

WHITE… IN GHANA

I was one of few Americans in an African  culture. It made myself and the rest of the NYU students very easy to point out, which the locals did on a constant basis. Ghanaians were very nice though and were willing to help you as long as you were gracious and willing to learn.

– Chanelle, Ghana

ASIAN-AMERICAN… IN SHANGHAI

Being Chinese and going to Shanghai, most people would think diversity issues would be the last of my worries. But as many of my Asian-American classmates and I found out, being Chinese and speaking fluent American English made us the recipients of many stares and whispers.

– Patty, Shanghai

WHITE… IN GHANA

I heard ‘obruni’ (meaning foreigner or white person) and ‘white woman!’ more often than I heard my own name.

–         Amanda, Ghana

INDIAN AMERICAN… IN LONDON

London’s pretty diverse and already has a large Indian population. Upon hearing my accent, I did still receive the usual, “where are you from” questions.

– Neha, London

AFRICAN-AMERICAN… IN PRAGUE

The locals would often act sort of standoff-ish.  They would stare at me as I rode on the tram or walked down the street, but would not speak or smile.

– Patricia, Prague

WHITE… IN FLORENCE

I felt awkward and out of place for being a blonde in Italy. But it’s the 21st century, and Europeans are pretty up-to-speed with the times as far as tolerance goes.

– Sarah, Florence & Madrid

ASIAN-AMERICAN… IN PARIS

Everywhere I went and even when I first got to AUP, I was always asked where I was from, which was always a weird question to decipher. Sometimes the questioner would mean what school I was visiting from (NYU), my nationality (USA), my ethnicity (Chinese), where I was born (Hong Kong), where I grew up (California), etc. It’s actually a very complicated question if you think about it – particularly if you don’t look “American” (as in of European/Anglo-Saxon descent).

– Angela, Paris

WHITE… IN SHANGHAI

Locals were very curious about me and were thrilled when I attempted to hold conversations with them in Mandarin.  The Starbucks employees were all trying to learn English and could not understand why I would only converse with them in Mandarin.

– Melissa, Shanghai

FROM A LOCAL’S PERSPECTIVE

ASIAN… IN SHANGHAI

Although I’m not American, people assumed I was because I spoke English with friends and colleagues. They often wondered if I was their tour guide or translator and tried to coerce me into exploiting my friends e.g. taking a particular cab for a certain fare and even bribing me with a portion of the fare!

– Cheryl, Shanghai


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