If you are an American traveling abroad you will face judgement, both good and bad. People will ask you questions, expect answers from you, they will silently judge you, and most of all they will want your opinion of your government.
With all the questions I’ve been asked such as: What do you think of China? What do you think about your President? What do you think of Donald Trump? What is your favorite part of China?
These are the usual questions I am asked by both Chinese students and other foreign students. Can I as an American avoid these questions? No, instead I answer them truthfully and ask their opinions of America and of the president.
Interaction and socialization with people other than other Americans can open your world view, especially about yourself as an American. As I’ve talked with other Americans in China, we’ve come to similar conclusions that sometimes it’s hard to navigate classroom discussions, social groups (because our social etiquettes are different, even from Europeans), and some people generalize all Americans into a single stereotype. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- There is nothing special about America, but being American is special. We don’t have the rights to brag about our croissants or baguettes, or our pizza and spaghetti, or bibimbap and baozi, or pretzels and sauerkraut. As much as I might have fought with a German about how great Philly Pretzels are, they will never compare to its former and origins as being a German invention. However, no one but Americans will realize how unique our culture is. It’s sometimes hard to explain the food truck revolution happening in West Philly. It will be really hard to explain your own American culture with others because it’s a combination of so much. American culture is composed from many other cultures, and no one but Americans will truly understand.
- Despite the current political climate between China and the US, the Chinese people and American people admire each other. Ever heard of the phrase “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” by Charles Caleb Colton? I believe that despite the trade wars and misunderstanding between governments, the people are very interested in America. Likewise, I believe many Americans are starting to become very interested in China. In time I believe, we will come to admire each other or be forced to admire each other.
- America is a powerful country despite our problems. In one of my classes we looked at different countries’ military spending of 2017. America spent 610 Billion dollars! China was next at 200 Billion, but America still spends 3 times that much. And for what? Well, before moving abroad I didn’t pay much attention to how we were viewed internationally. I knew most of the world watches us but now that I’m half way across the world I began to learn about how America is viewed by others. Being abroad I began to understand how much of the world looks to America to resolve conflicts, how America is a “leader” in the international community, how countries look at our failures and learn from them, and how our actions affect most of world politics and the economy. This of course, has its pros and cons. While talking with my friends I began to learn how strong America is as a country. I also began to learn that our mannerisms are very different as well. I realize how China views America as this “superpower” and as a rival to the “top”. I began to realize that America has a profound place in the international community that I never realized before.
In most of my classes, my professors continuously talk about U.S. and China relations, military spending, economy and GDP, and how China might become the world’s next superpower. Being American abroad and learning about my country form a different perspective is one of the best ways I began to really understand the world around me.