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American Ambassador in Norway

January 21, 2011

Each time I told someone I planned to study abroad in Norway, I got one of two reactions: “Why?” or “That’s so cool!” I would like to address the first response.

For many of my family and friends, going abroad has never been on their bucket list. They are satisfied with their surroundings and content in their daily lives. Because of their own lack of interest to go abroad, they assumed my desire to live in Norway meant that I was unsatisfied with my country and seeking out another place to call home. This could not be farther from the truth. I do like the United States, but I feel like it is impossible to identify yourself as an American if you have never been able to travel abroad. How can you know what it means to be American if you do not know what it means to not be an American? This was a question I sought to answer.

I have always had difficulty with my American identity. As a child, primary schools and teachers shoved nationalism down our throats with songs, poems, and misleading, heavily distorted history lessons about America’s greatness. In fact, as a small child, I used to believe that people living in other countries were shackled and enslaved; a ridiculous idea that was perpetuated by the “land of the free” stigma that was so heavily taught from the time you enter kindergarten. This was the subject of an essay I wrote for my final exam in American Literature during my sophomore year of high school. Today, this subject still resonates strongly in my mind.

However, I don’t want to sound unpatriotic. I do love my country, but I love other countries, too. When you study abroad, not only do you learn about another culture, but you learn about your own as you begin to compare and contrast the cultural differences between your host country and your home country. This has been an extremely rewarding experience for me thus far.

While living in the states, it is difficult to identify as an “American.” We identify ourselves by what particular state we live in. While we know about general trends and patterns consistent amongst most Americans, we are quite culturally confined within our own states. However, when you live in a different country, you are automatically forced to identify as an American. I am no longer just a Wisconsinite, but a full fledged, immigrant descendant, American citizen. This is the first time in my life that I have actually called myself as such, and it is still hard to get used to.

When I meet people, I have to break down the barriers to show them that I don’t embody every American stereotype known to man: I’m not obese, I don’t shop at Wal-Mart for everything, I don’t live in California or New York, and I don’t drive a car. Yet once those stereotypes dissolve, conversation and interaction gets more interesting because I then have to recreate a new image of an American. I have to ask myself questions like: What am I? Am I a good example of a 20-something American? What impression am I making on my new friends?

As an international student, I must act as an American ambassador. Like it or not. It is particularly challenging since many people already think they know what Americans are like. I hope to leave a positive impact on people here. Not only for my own benefit of keeping lifelong friends, but to show people that I was raised in a good place. A good home.


6 Comments leave one →
  1. Kendal DeGreef permalink
    January 21, 2011 8:08 pm

    I remember the reactions I got from the locals of Norway. “You’re a stupid American” is what one of my friends (from Alta, Norway) would joke with me about. It’s hard to not stereotype people based on where they are from though. I am sure you received certain reactions about studying abroad in Norway bc most people assume what the area and people are like. Traveling to different places in the world is the only way to really break down those barriers. great post 🙂

    • January 22, 2011 12:14 pm

      Yeah, I always wish my family could come to Norway and see what it’s like. I never know how to properly describe it!

  2. Mom permalink
    January 22, 2011 2:59 am

    I am very proud of you.

  3. Sharon permalink
    January 22, 2011 12:06 pm

    That was a really fun conversation we had 🙂 It was very interesting to talk about how Americans are lumped together by Europeans and vice versa.

    • January 22, 2011 12:12 pm

      I was just editing this post trying to make my ideas a bit more clear since I wrote this super early in the morning. But yes, this conversation was really interesting. It came at a good time since I had been thinking about this topic a lot lately.

  4. Mary Kay permalink
    January 30, 2011 2:21 am

    That’s very interesting Lisa. I am always interested in how children think and learn and I am so sorry that you were given wrong impressions of the rest of the world…I am also sorry that the same thing happens everywhere else too…the American image. We all have alot to learn. Travel good, couch bad!

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