Before I left America, I was told time and time again that I would be constantly asked questions regarding life in the U.S., our politics, our laws and regulations, and anything else that could possibly be associated with Americans. What I wasn’t prepared for, was the number of students I’d meet that have an incredibly extensive knowledge of life in the United States. Many of the students here (in Mannheim specifically) spent a year in an American high school, typically in random locations, but I didn’t even know that was an option, so I was both confused and intrigued all at once. They are freakishly aware of the cultural and political differences between the two countries, more so than me at times.
So instead of asking me about general stereotypes in the U.S., they were asking me about my own opinions and beliefs, something I really hadn’t expected to discuss with other exchange students. And it’s been lovely! We have great (and most importantly civil) debates about American stereotypes, giving me a whole new perspective on how other parts of the world view my home country. This also gives me the opportunity to defend and/or confirm things, giving them some more knowledge on how I feel about where I live.
And as much as I love talking about the U.S., I’m also able to discuss stereotypes that I had heard of and grew up believing about Germans and Europeans. Having a couple of different German and European friends from different walks of life, I’m able to have these conversations often, and gain a larger perspective, rather than take one person’s statements at face value. I get to ask questions, in a comfortable atmosphere, without having to stress about offending or insulting anyone. I’m learning, and so are they.
It’s a wonderful collaborative of constantly bouncing questions off of one another. Sometimes they answer tough questions for me, like “Do all Germans never jaywalk?” or “Do you actually really like currywurst or is that just a tourist fad?” While they get to ask, “Do you like people from the West Coast?” and “Do you eat hamburgers and pizza everyday?”
There’s always something new to learn here, but the most important lesson that I’ve learned, so far, is that regardless of what you see or hear on the streets, there’s always more to learn about a countries cultures and customs. To take them as they are isn’t fair to anyone, and to actually be able to learn something from your experiences you have to ask more difficult questions, dig deeper, because there’s so much more to be uncovered than meets the eye.