Ugly Americans

Too many students stick within the SU bubble while abroad.

By Steph Machado | Illustration by Justin Rivera

According to the popular blog Betches Love This, every true betch must study abroad. In fact, it’s number three on the Betch List. “Naturally, there’s nothing a betch loves more than a four month vacation that’s fully funded by their parents under the guise of being ‘culturally immersed.’”

As a Syracuse University student currently studying in Madrid, let me tell you—these betches exist. And the worst part is, they’re not just all betches.Too many students remain in their American comfort zone, spending time with their American friends at tourist spots while speaking English.

Living in another country means becoming part of its culture. And for most, hanging with the locals seems like an obvious choice. But half the American girls I meet assume Spanish men are “creepy.” Likewise, the boys tend to go out in packs to bars that show American sports—places that locals rarely frequent. By sticking with the familiar, they’re missing key cultural interactions like the memorable evening I spent with a Spaniard named Sergio talking politics, education, and pop culture all while practicing my Spanish, and he, his English.

A vital part of a cultural experience is learning the language, and much of that comes from your host family. Still, a lot of students opt to get apartments with their American friends. While this may be great for hosting pregames, it inevitably lands these students on the couch with microwave dinners. They’re missing out on the chance to learn more than their professors could ever teach them, along with eating delicious home- cooked, traditional meals. Dieter Kuehl, the German-Guatemalan SU Madrid Director says “U.S. students overestimate the power of the English language and underestimate the necessity to learn a second or third language.”

My host mom Gloria once told me about another student who lived with her. “Diecisiete pares de zapatos!” Gloria exclaimed repeatedly. Apparently, this chick rejected all things Spanish. Instead of appreciating the local culture, she spent her time at the mall—buying 17 pairs of shoes.These betches cross the pond with the wrong attitude. Kuehl has seen many similar cases. “Unfortunately, many students do not take advantage of the opportunities—due to lack of interest, lack of desire to challenge themselves, or fear of a different environment.” Like Kuehl says, you have to give up some of your native country comforts to allow yourself to be sucked into a new one.

And shoes aren’t the only extravagance. Some students insist on spending outrageous amounts of money on things like VIP tables at clubs and five-star hotels. To be frank, they're complete snobs. Staying in hotels isolates them from the rest of the world. There’s nothing that compares to a weekend in a youth hostel with your new friend Nathan, who is spending a month in Portugal learning how to make cheese, or sharing dinner with a group of Brazilians studying graphic design in Italy. If you’re not willing to wear flip-flops in the shower, stay in the U.S.

If nothing else, immerse yourself for the glory stories. Face it, having nothing to tell your friends back home besides getting drunk at an Americanized club with other Americans isn’t much more exciting than regaling a night spent at Harry's. Blacking out is the same in every language. Remembering cultural immersion (at least most of it) will leave you with an unparalleled experience destined for nostalgia.

Check out the Web Exclusives on the top 10 reasons why International Students hate Americans.