Q&A: What Have You Learned About Your Own Culture Since You’ve Been Abroad?

We asked and you answered! In our last installment of “Q&A,” we wanted to ask ISA students how their view of American culture changed after studying abroad.

“What have you learned about your own culture since you’ve been abroad?”


1. Sound Dynamics

During my time here I’ve picked up on an interesting dichotomy. American culture can be very reserved and private or incredibly bold. The “Americans are so loud!!” complaint is all too real. Adjusting our volume levels within the home has been the biggest challenge because the first few weeks we failed to realize how thin the walls are here and how loud we are compared to our neighbors (public apology to the sleeping baby next door)! On the flip side, Americans are much more reserved than Moroccans in interactions with one another. Americans may be loud, but we tend to highly value our space, whereas Moroccans stand/sit/speak very close to one another. Quietly, maybe, but always emphatically. There’s real emotion in every action and word regardless of the volume level.

-Chloe Bowman, Meknes, Morocco, Spring 2015

2. Scheduling

Here in America, our life depends on time. The way we look at time affects the way we live, eat, sleep, breath, and think. We consider our days fulfilling if they are consumed by activities. Spending six weeks in France changed my perception completely. Carpe Diem is a French saying that means seize the day. This is a hard concept for future-oriented Americans to wrap their minds around. Here in America, success is measured by how busy we are, but if we slow down, take a step back, and live in the present moment, we might appreciate our days a little more.

-Lindsay McGonagle, Lille, France, Summer 2014

3. Travel Bug

Fanny packs, corn dogs and a beer belly usually depict an American tourist, however I have learned that my own American culture, at least college kids, understand the importance of utilizing experiences when studying abroad and applying them to daily life applications. While abroad in New Zealand, my American friends placed a strong importance on becoming immersed into a new culture, overcoming new challenges and learning in a foreign institutional arrangement outside of US colleges and universities.  Globally speaking, American culture is easy to identify within foreign countries.

-Scott Carney, Wellington, New Zealand, Spring 2012

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4. Privilege 

Now that I’ve been gone for a few months, I’m a little freaked out to go home to the States. The idea of unlimited and fast WiFi, no power outages, fast customer service, public transportation, complete safety and timeliness are literally scary to me. Like if I were to go to a meal and have them bring me the check as I finished my meal, I would probably be a little freaked out. Needless to say, Americans are insanely spoiled. But I don’t know, guys – the ocean breeze, towering mountains, smiling faces and yummy Cape Malay cuisine are, dare I say, way better than free and constant WiFi to check your Instagram or send a Snapchat. There are blessings all around the world that come in different forms. In the U.S., we are #blessed to scroll through social media while riding a train that arrived on time. But in Cape Town, I feel lucky to look up at Table Mountain and feel the sun shining on my face as I walk to my South African Politics lecture only to find myself an hour later sampling curry at the marketplace or surfing at the beach.

-Libby Cornelssen, Cape Town, South Africa, Spring 2015

5. Individualism

Based on my experience in Argentina, I realized that the American culture has yet to surpass its primary stages of development, given that it’s relatively young. The purity of Argentinian culture is one to behold. From a cultural perspective, I see America as the third-world country. It is incomplete; however, it takes time to paint a beautiful picture. We may be raised as individualists, but teamwork and compassion are far more meaningful.

-Aldrine Domalanta, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Spring 2015

6. Sense of Time

Americans always have another place to be. Immediately after my first foreign movie theatre experience, I expected the theatre to empty. Instead, I awkwardly waited at the edge of my chair for ten minutes, confused as to why no one was rushing out of the theatre. When we finally left, my professor was just as puzzled by my confusion towards the custom. She explained that people probably stay for a while in order to let the material sink in. There are some concepts you can only translate when you allow yourself to live in that very moment.

-Paige Poorman, Prague, Czech Republic, Summer 2014


For the next question, we want to ask:

Why do you think students today should study abroad?

We’re curious why people should study abroad at all. What is the motivation? What do they get out of it? What, beyond the obvious perk of travel, is it that makes study abroad so important? Comment here, on the Facebook thread, or email your answer to blog@studiesabroad.com. Any ISA program alum is welcome to contribute!

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