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My Study Abroad Experience: What I Learned About American Culture

My Study Abroad Experience: What I Learned About American Culture

We learn a lot about ourselves when we study abroad. Read this article written by an American student who studied in Florence and how it taught her more about her own culture.

When you study abroad for a semester, it will teach you a lot about the culture you study in. I am an American student studying with other American students at a pretty American University. The school is located within the city of Florence, Italy. Our classes are in English so this keeps us in our comfort zone. Aside, there are many other aspects of studying abroad that prove we are not receiving any less of the Italian experience.

Through our time outside of the classroom and the insight of our professors, we learn how we stand out. Here’s what I learned about American Culture as I began traveling, grocery shopping, and doing everything in between abroad.

We are generally louder than the local people.

It’s not difficult to spot out American Students who study abroad in a foreign country. We gaze up at the beautiful and awe-inspiring architecture and aesthetic beauty all of Europe has to offer. After the first hundred times passing the Duomo, we become more focused on getting to class on time. However, on trains and metros, walking through the streets, or at a restaurant; we are nine out of 10 times the loudest in the room. I haven’t completely figured this one out. The advice I’ve received to avoid standing out is to be quiet.


 We are a bit entitled and quick to assume.

Americans who study abroad are quick to assume that our customs move with us as we move throughout the world. We believe we are entitled to fast service, fast-food, our own side of the sidewalk, and an apology from everyone who bumps into us. The streets of Florence are incredibly tiny. It will make everyone a lot more pleasant when we understand that a bump on the shoulder is nothing more than a mere consequence of walking through a busy city. If anything it’s a subtle reminder of the opportunity to move about a city of rich history. In America, we might be able to share an entire pizza with a friend on our walk to class. If you do that in Italy, you’re guaranteed to be the punch line of a professor’s joke.

 We are more self conscious and less aware of what surrounds us.

I noticed that you can spot an American by where their eyes wander. It’s usually anywhere but directly in front of them. As I mentioned before, it is important to see the beauty. However, to truly become part of the culture you are studying, you must understand that you are agreeing to delve into the lives of the local people who are going to work, a doctors appointment, or the grocery store. Be confident, be aware, and try your best to make it seem like you know what you are doing. The locals may still be able to pick you out in a heart beat, but they’ll appreciate your generous attempt.

 We are respectful.

Although we may not seem it, I speak for the majority of study abroad students when I say we want to know, learn and understand. The language barrier makes communication difficult. Even more so, when we attempt to speak Italian at any local place. Asking for a check, to take your food home, or whether or not to leave a tip are only a few things where we struggle.  I am proud of myself and my peers for handling ourselves with composure and an open mind.

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 We are behind.

In a general sense, we are not behind. Except for the coffee vending machines outside of every classroom that hand you fresh espresso in exchange for a Meer .70 Euro. When it comes to having a sense of community, however, I have noticed we are a bit less advanced. We could be more advanced, depending on how you look at it. If we are ahead, I hope Italy stays behind because it is refreshing to come to a community that takes pride in relationships and meals. On Sundays in Florence, you will find the most people on the streets, shops closed, and local families out and about. When I noticed this, I was absolutely touched. I’m grateful that I come from a family who holds this idea of Sunday being for family. If you can relate, lets vow to keep that tradition.

We are brave.

Aside from the negativity and relentless jokes that come with being an American student in another country, it is an extremely brave and courageous thing to do. It may seem like a semester long vacation to our friends and family back home, but the things we have and will be able to learn abroad are completely unique and unavoidably our very own. We will be able to go through life knowing that our culture is one of many. Also, that the opportunity to study abroad is a chance to make changes to our habits for the rest of  our lives and to help others do so too.


Share what you learned about American culture when you did your semester study abroad in the comments below!
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