Breaking the Chain of Cultural Stereotypes – by Lindsey Thurman

Imagine this, you fly across the country to study Communications and Digital Media in Dublin, Ireland. You travel as a white female, twenty one years old, from the southern state of Tennessee. You are so excited to start this new journey at a University that is known to be welcoming, considering it has more exchange students enrolled than Irish Nationals. The problem occurs after your first day of class, when you were told many times by many different Europeans that Americans are dumb, ignorant, selfish, and know nothing about any place outside of United States. You now reconsider your entire decision on coming to this country.

The unfair stereotypes that Americans face in foreign countries of being dumb and ignorant is a major problem. It’s seen in movies, reality television, and even in politics, but most think it’s just that – a stereotype. This stereotype rang true and broke my heart to pieces when experiencing it first hand. How could these people just categorize me as incoherent when they didn’t even know me, or how much it took to be able to travel abroad and study here.  

It all started when I entered my first Photography class at the school I was studying abroad at in Dublin. I walked into a melting pot of cultures, but I was the only American student in the class. Notably, no one talked to me. We each had to go up in front of the class and give a short introduction of ourselves. Then us students were told that we had to split off into groups of  four to practice our photography together, and perform the workshops in class as a team for the next semester. I stood as no one asked me, and then when I walked up to a group of two Irish girls and one German girl and asked if I could be in their group, they said no. 

As I walked away already feeling embarrassed, I heard one of the girls wiper to the others “We definitely don’t want a stupid American.” The other two girls laughed. I walked away feeling at the lowest place I’ve ever felt in my life. I went back to my dorm room and cried. 

The problem with culture stereotyping is that when you choose to go by them, and what is boasted of them in the media and politics, you are choosing to not see one’s true identity. Those girls decided to see me as a “dumb American” not a girl who has made the Dean’s List three semesters in a row, or a girl who won an academic to study abroad for free. They chose to look past me as a person who was described by two measly little words.  

One way instances such as these can be overcome is by making courses like Media Diversity mandatory for all institutions across the globe. I know that certain people deal with issues such as these daily, over and over again. My situation is not unique, it happens to people of all religions, culture, and race. But that does not make it okay. Another way to stop stereotype injustice from happening is for all institutions and workplaces to have inclusive student/worker workshops where they are taught how to overcome the urge to stereotype those who aren’t the same as them. 

In conclusion, the unfairness and injustice that stems from cultural stereotyping is an issue that people all across the world deal with everyday. We are all different, and we need to embrace our differences instead of tearing each other down because of them.

Lindsey Thurman
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