By Vera Hebel
I went to the States for 6 months to study English and American culture. She tells about her experience abroad. Studying abroad and getting to know different people from all over the world and learning more about their culture has always been one of my most important dreams. Often it’s not easy to go to a country and just judge the people from your own experience, usually you always have the clichés in the back of your head. And about America there are quite a lot. We Europeans seem to know so much about this fascinating country from all we’ve seen in the Hollywood Movies. But are they always true?
Europe meets US
These were the questions I had when I went into the plane and still couldn’t stop thinking when I arrived 8 hours later. I knew Americans love football, but what can I say – to me, since I’ve never understood the rules – it’s always been a cruel game of smashing your heads. I knew I shouldn’t tell that my host family since my host brother was football captain. Thanks to that and me being a member of marching band I spent 15 Friday or Saturday nights sitting in the cold at the side of a football field following the game. And if that wasn’t enough, there was always a Pats (New England Patriots) game on TV. But I did not just learn to accept it as a part of my life in America but also to love the game. So the stereotype about the important sport is definitely true. And that in High School football players are the “cool Dudes” is after my experience true as well.
European schools lacks very often team spirit
I am afraid you do appreciate things only if you have the opportunity to compare and find out about it. I liked the school system in America much better than the one I knew so far. I really have to give the Americans a compliment for. But also the way they teach and learn is very clever. I personally liked how they used various kinds of media like the TV or we were listening to songs in Spanish and French class – and for many students I know that’s a way to learn much easier. Also in foreign languages they learn vocabulary after world fields. So one day it’s all the objects you can find in a classroom, the other it’s all the parts of the body.
In these word fields it is easy and fun to learn – and you feel much earlier a success than learning by chapters of a book. Learning in an American School is full of variety. You do learn in classes, but you also have to do projects. I have never done so many projects before. This was a totally new experience. First it seemed to be nasty – but it ended to be a lot of fun. Learning for me has never been that much fun than learning in an American High School. I’ve never had a single day in 6 months where I didn’t like going to school.
Even though the methods of studying are different, which really made me a fan of the American High School, there is another fact that led to the great feeling and joy and fun I had at School: it is the openness of the Americans I met there for foreigners. When I came to the US I found so many friends in such a short amount of time like never before. After the second week of school there was no day of the weekend or vacation that I didn’t meet with any of my various friends.
And what I also liked was that I was on a – if you compare it to other schools – small school with 1000 students where in a grade everybody knew each other and was friends with one another. My parents and my friends from Germany have always warned me to always keep in mind that Americans are the friendliest persons on earth but as soon as you leave the country they’ve already forgotten about you. Luckily my experience is a different one. 3 months I’m still in contact with the most of them and I’m sure that during the 6 months I spent in America I found a couple of friends for life.
In the movies the cheerleaders are presented as the girl that looks exactly the way every girl wishes to look. They are the girls with the “perfect” life: perfect body, perfect look, perfect friends and perfect boyfriend. But the movies also show that this is just the surface: in the end they often turn out to be mean and arrogant. At my school we just had a small cheerleading team. Some of them were very focused on their look and their appearance but others (and I’m lucky to count one of them as one of my best friends) are normal, friendly girls, like most of the Americans that I met.
Americans are more online and in front of TV than we are. Reminds a bit of Spain.
Radio, TV and newspaper… – who hasn’t heard about the Americans and their usage of the media? In my family I had the experience that a newspaper was just bought if my host brother was mentioned in an article because of football. But the usage of the internet and the TV is unbelievable high. That starts with small electronic devices – I’m talking about cell phones – that are not just used to call or text but also to take pictures and send them to internet platforms like “facebook” or “twitter”. But what amazed me the most were the big TVs. Sometimes they are really huge. I’ve never seen TVs that big before: some were 2 meters wide. The TV is always on. And if you don’t watch TV you easily feel like an outsider the next day in school when everybody is talking about the new and “wicked awesome” series that just started on abc. In order to spend as much time as possible in front of the TV every family has TV trays which make it easier to eat in front of the TV.
But this is just the beginning of the “life in front of the TV”. You are not just eating but also talking on the phone, doing your homework or things for your work while the TV is running – although I’m sure that there are families like that in Germany as well. But there is no way of getting rid of this “addiction”. If you don’t live like that, it’s physically not possible to watch all the movies that are “mandatory”, especially if you are foreign and have so much to catch up with.
Even though the TV was mostly used to watch movies there are various channels for just one topic. OK, everyone knows about the Sport channels but what about the weather ones, where you can see at what time at which place where on the east coast the tide will come. These channels were a completely new world for me and I often couldn’t understand why my host mom was sitting 20 minutes in front of this channel just to know the weather conditions her husband and son will have when they are going diving at place “xy” instead of just google-ing it.
Food is not as bad as Europeans believe
Other clichés are the eating habit and the fact of the booming fast food restaurants like McDonalds – that isn’t even as well liked as we think, it’s rather Wendy’s or Dunkin Donuts – are in my opinion a very big factor for the stereotype of obese Americans. Luckily I had a difference experience and was pleasantly surprised as I did not eat much fast food but more vegetables and fruits, although one thing about the “fast food” in America is true – it has to be prepared in almost no time.
To say the truth I personally think that food is a very interesting part about a country’s culture. Everywhere you eat different things and various spices are used. I for my part have never eaten squash before and now I really like it. That you have some bad experiences, too, belong to a stay in a different country. I didn’t have them too often but have to say that raw mussels will never belong to my list of favorite foods. Still: Go to a country and try to learn as many new things as possible, although they might not be positive. I’m still glad that I did it and I’m proud of myself to have brought myself to do it.
So now I’m coming to a conclusion: I can just recommend going abroad even if it’s just for a short time. It helps your language but your social skills as well. Besides it is just fun, fun, fun. I’d even say that the 6 months in America count to one of the best times in my life.Every school also offers another sport well known for stereotypes: the cheerleaders that are according to the cliché the “stupid blonde girls that are dancing”.