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November 29, 2012

Local Voices from Around the Globe: Proud to be an American

In the months before I set out on exchange, I was told that I’d fall in love with my host country. I knew that’d be true too. I was going to France. How could I not love all of the new sites, people and food? What I didn’t realize, however, is how hard I’d fall in love with the country I’ve lived in my whole life at the same time.

One of the many benefits of going on an exchange, completely immersing yourself in another culture, and putting yourself in the middle of its people, is that you get to see how others view the place that you call home. This can be both positive and negative, of course. Within my first week in France and after hearing about what people, both kids and adults, thought of America, I realized that I’d have a lot of teaching, as well as learning, to do.

The first major shock I had in France dealing with my nationality is with the fact that every single time I told people that I was from New York, they immediately assumed I was from the center of Manhattan. So many people here don’t realize that there’s an entire state of New York, and that’s a little frustrating at times.

What I’ve found most interesting though, is how almost all French believe that the United States is the most non-worldly minded country in the world. For example, my history class just started a unit on World War II, and my classmates as well as my teacher asked me not only if I had studied it before, but even more shocking was if I even knew what it was.

People of every society have false assumptions about other cultures. Even I had stereotypes of the French in my mind when I arrived in France, but I soon realized that they were nowhere close to being true. Despite the many misconceptions, however, the French absolutely love the idea of the “American Dream.” People wear bold American flag prints, whether it be on a shirt, a tie, shoes or handbags, every day.

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