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Keeping an Open Mind

July 27, 2012

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Studying and traveling abroad with an open mind is one of the most valuable things you can do to prepare for an international experience. It is so important to not allow stereotypes to shape your perspective. Most stereotypes are simply exaggerated perceptions of a type of people or a place. For example, most people think that Texas is nothing but ranches and cowboys. Yet, some of the biggest and most diverse cities in the United States are located in Texas. Or when people think of California, many people automatically think of Hollywood and celebrities. But it’s also home to snowy mountains, forested national parks, and beautiful beaches.

Just as foreign students wouldn’t want to be judged based on being different or where they are from, neither do people of the host countries. Before I left to study abroad in the Middle East, many people questioned why I would want to go there, and some even made distasteful comments. I knew it was a more unusual study abroad destination, but I was nevertheless stunned that people could still be so prejudiced. I hoped that I could return with successful stories of cross-cultural connection. While I was there, my blonde hair and blue eyes definitely stood out, and some people made assumptions based on my different appearance or the fact that I was American. I tried not to fall victim to this narrow mindedness when getting to know people, and because of that I was able to make some good friends. More often than not they were excited to share their culture with me as well as learn about my way of life.

It’s unfair to lump everyone in together when the knowledge of another culture or place is based on television, movies, or perhaps an interaction with one person. No one wants to be judged based on preconceived notions. It’s a mistake to draw conclusions based on stereotypes because it closes your mind to the reality you experience upon arrival. This mindset can cause you to miss valuable opportunities to have great friendships. Being inflexible and having expectations that are too specific may make adjusting to your new life more difficult and the experience can become a bigger challenge than it should be. Arriving ready for new experiences, prepared to adapt to a new way of life, and excited to engage in a different culture will make your homestay and school experience the absolute best they can be.

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