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Americans Abroad

In addition to learning about a foreign country’s culture when you travel abroad you will also experience American culture in a whole new way. You will quickly notice that American culture (music, art, literature, cinema, etc) has spread throughout the globe.  When it comes to American politics, people in your host culture will have differing views and opinions of American policy and politics.  The study abroad experience is one that will help you grow and change as a person and will make you learn to be considerate of a variety of diverse perspectives.  You should be prepared to be an informal ambassador of the US and its culture and to respect others and act responsibly while you are abroad.
 

Things to Consider

  • Being an American Cultural Ambassador:  As an American abroad, you may find yourself in a situation in which you are expected to know a lot of things about the USA.  While in the US, you might first be identified by your race/ethnicity, but abroad, you may first be identified as an American. Topics such as US geography, politics, values, and pop culture may come up in conversation with people in your host country and you may be expected to be an expert on all of these things. 

    It will help you to become familiar with common US facts and policies.  People will likely ask you a lot of questions about your life in the United States.  Study the current foreign policies that exist between the US and your host country/region. Understand what US involvement there has been in your host country and region. 

    Become familiar with the US electoral system, judicial system, and government structure if you are not already.  Understanding of these basic systems will help you when these topics come up in conversation with local friends.

  • Stereotypes of Americans: Some students may encounter a foreigner who has a less than positive view of Americans.  Keep in mind these opinions are usually based on political issues or something in the media and shouldn’t been seen as a personal attack.  The more you know about American politics and cultural history, the more you will be able to respond and engage in friendly debate and conversation.  As you experience life in a foreign country, you may even see your own perception of the United States change.  Study abroad is full of academic and cultural challenges, including the reality that a wide range of opinions about the United States exists. As a US student abroad you can help counter potential misperceptions of Americans abroad.

    Likewise, you may, willingly or not, be associated with negative stereotypes of Americans.  Avoid reinforcing those stereotypes by demonstrating appreciation and respect for your foreign culture and its residents.  Use alcohol responsibly and in a culturally appropriate way. 
     
  • Foreign Languages:  Generally speaking Americans tend to have fewer second and third language abilities than citizens of other countries. If you are studying abroad in a country that is not English speaking, you will often find yourself in situations where you may not be able to communicate with everyone you encounter.  To help yourself out in advance, brush up on your foreign language skills prior to departure.  Get a language partner, tutor, or take a formal language class at AU or a language school in DC.  Learn the basics beyond just “please” and “thank you” so you can communicate and get to know a broader spectrum of people from your host country. 

Resources 

The AU Abroad office can advise you on your study abroad options and help you find the right program for your major and personal goals.  The AU Abroad office is located in the Rockwood building (to the left of Public Safety by the south side shuttle stop). Tel: 202-885-1320 or auabroad@american.edu

studyabroad.state.gov/ is a website run by the US State Department that contains resources for study abroad students and their families.