Viewpoint: Don’t be an ignorant American

Jenna Press
Jenna 2
Jenna Press

By Jenna Press
Copy Editor

Americans, as a whole, don’t spend enough vacation time overseas. The experience of visiting a foreign country has so much to offer, and yet many Americans will never leave the country.

As students at a university like Baylor, many of us have been blessed with the opportunity to travel overseas, spending summers or spring breaks in France, Italy or England. However, as a nation, Americans rarely visit other countries. When they do, it is often the case that they do not get as much out of the experience as they should. People can spend weeks, even months, overseas and come back exactly the same.

As someone who has been lucky enough to have lived four years of my life overseas, I’d like to think I have a more open world view than my peers, a more experienced perspective. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to listen to people mindlessly reinforce stereotypes, telling me that the French are rude or the Germans are strict rule-followers who can’t have any fun.

I inevitably counter their statements with the question, “Well, have you actually BEEN to that country?” I can’t decide which answer frustrates me more – when they haven’t actually experienced the culture they’re judging or when I’m told haughtily that yes, of course they have been, and their opinion still holds. I just don’t get how that’s possible.

Visiting a foreign country is one of the most amazing, life-changing, eye-opening experiences there is. If you let it, it will change the way you think. Experiencing another culture promotes understanding and relieves you of prejudice. It humbles you, fuels your curiosity and opens your mind. It will broaden your perspective, remind you to be grateful for what you have, and help you gain confidence and maturity. If you’re lucky enough to have the chance to experience another culture, you need to delve into it as deeply as you can.

I don’t understand how someone can walk through Paris, shop at the little boutiques that line its streets, enjoy the incredible French cuisine and stand under the Eiffel Tower, and still come back to the United States with the belief that the French are rude.
If that’s what you think, you’re not doing it right.

Don’t go to Italy, order pizza and be disappointed when what you get doesn’t look like Domino’s.
Don’t go to Germany and be loud and obnoxious and expect people from their more reserved culture to respond in kind. They won’t. You have no right to be offended.

Don’t go to any country without learning a word of their language and expect them to treat you with respect. Most likely, they will, but if you didn’t put any effort at all into learning how to communicate with the people whose culture you’re there to experience, you don’t deserve it.

The stereotype of the ugly American tourist cannot be applied to everyone, but it exists for a reason. Americans are largely ignorant of other cultures. When they do travel, they tend to be loud, stubborn and closed-minded.

The whole point of traveling is to experience another country’s customs. Study them, respect them, and you could actually learn something. Understand that there’s something else out there, that there’s other ways to do things, and that – surprise – our way might not be the best way.

There should be nothing stopping you from going overseas – contrary to popular belief, airfare isn’t always thousands of dollars, and you don’t have to stay in a five-star hotel to experience another culture. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. Don’t write it off as an impossible dream.

Traveling overseas with an open mind will give you a more accurate world view and a broader perspective. You’ll end up with a new outlook on the world, the best stories and unforgettable memories.

At some point, everyone should visit a foreign country, and let it expand their minds and change their lives for the better.

Jenna Press is a junior journalism and professional writing double major from Ramstein, Germany. She is a copy editor for the Lariat.