Article by Nikki Tackley | esPResso Committee Member
Remember middle school? Remember when who you were was determined by how much Abercrombie & Fitch apparel you wore? Living in a foreign country is eerily similar—except who you are is determined by your nationality, not your clothing. Europeans can usually spot an American from a mile away, but unfortunately this does not always accompany the best connotations.
When Marist College PRSSA Vice President Nikki Tackley got off the plane in Florence, she immediately fell in love with it. The old architecture, history and mouthwatering food had her at gelato. She was ecstatic to be surrounded by people from a different culture and to embrace their way of life. So when orientation came around, Tackley was disappointed to be lectured by a Florentine police officer on how Europeans associate “drunk idiots” with American students. It made her sad to think that this place she loved may not accept her because of a few people’s actions in the past.
Tackley loves Florence and her time abroad has been fantastic and indescribable. She has met many wonderful and friendly Italian people. However, many people here are under the impression that American students just like to binge drink and do not study or appreciate the culture. Obviously this is not true, but she finds herself battling this stereotype wherever she goes.
For example, Tackley’s friends and she were in Prague a couple weeks ago and laughing on the tram. A man proceeded to tell them to stop laughing as they were “not in our home” and claim that they “did not respect the different culture we were in”. They were all shocked; they had spent the day exploring a castle and trying traditional Czech food, how could he judge their intentions without even knowing them?
No one told Tackley that by signing up to study abroad she was also signing up to be a U.S. ambassador, that how others viewed her was predetermined by a stereotype. When you are in a foreign country, you are a representation of your home country. The actions of others before you have influenced how you are viewed, just as your actions will influence how those that come after you will be percieved. Basically, you are a walking public relations campaign.
When there is a significant cultural difference between people, one person may sometimes default to stereotypes to classify the other. This discovery has encouraged Tackley to interact with people from different cultures as much as possible and fight against negative stereotypes; it has forced her to be hyperaware of how she presents myself every time she steps out her door.
Studying in Italy has been the best experience of her life. She never dreamt she would learn this much about herself and how the world works. Above all, she has learned that when you are in a foreign country everything you do reflects not just on yourself, but on where you come from too.
Photo credited by Nikki Tackley.