When I left to study in New Zealand last year, I didn’t expect my presence there to arouse suspicion.
One day as I got in a cab, the driver turned to me.
“Are you packing [a gun]?” he asked.
“No,” I replied.
“Not even mace?” he asked.
Have you seen me? I am 5’1”, petite, own some children’s clothing and wear a size five in women’s shoes.
The taxi driver apparently didn’t notice this. He only saw that I am American.
Even as far away as New Zealand, there’s an overwhelmingly negative stereotype of the American population. In their eyes, Americans are all packing — and this was before Aurora.
We think we look great on the outside. Our ideal of America is nearly flawless — props to our founding fathers and the Constitution for a job well done.
However, we’re also the country taking hundreds of selfies in the mirror, posting them on Facebook and expecting everyone else to tell us how great we look.
Do you know how many “likes” America would have if it had a Facebook? Maybe 12. We’re not as popular as we think.
This attitude results in an anti-American sentiment that I wasn’t quite prepared for — one that not only circulated throughout the student body but also one that professors used as the crux for some of their lectures.
Sometimes I had to check my syllabus. I was not in Music in World Cultures 104. I was in Screw America: An Advanced Seminar.
The bias frustrated me. Why was my New Zealand university not considering the American perspective?
And then it hit me — we don’t teach its side of history in our universities, either. The New Zealand school system is prejudiced, but the American one is too.
How much do you know about other countries? Initially, I knew next to nothing about New Zealand. I knew that I would find overwhelming numbers of sheep and that its international symbol is the kiwi, but from its capital to its culture I was lost.
Nor did I feel the significance of knowing these things until I found myself a guest there. They seemed irrelevant. But is that a fair standard?
To us, it is shocking to encounter people who do not know our capital and our president because, well, we are the United States of America. We are that pretty girl in the mirror. We are a global superpower — how can everyone else not find us as great as we do?
But other countries don’t like us because of that narcissistic attitude. So, in order to better participate in our globalized world and to improve our international reputation, we must become aware of more than the American side.
To achieve this, we must change how we educate ourselves. Our school system must include the perspectives of other countries.
Whereas other nations see us as a meddling and imperialistic force, our American teachers and textbooks present our actions as those of a knight in shining armor. We are to a large extent not responsible for knowing that there are other sides to this image because we never hear them.
We also need to learn the reasoning behind our own values.
In one lecture, a professor openly bashed America for its embargo on Cuba. I had learned that communism and Fidel Castro are bad and that we implemented the embargo when he came to power because it directly confronted democracy.
The New Zealand class learned that Castro came to power to help Cuba and instituted communism as a way to regain control over its economy, which America had a heavy hand in at the time.
I didn’t know how to respond. I’ve never had to have a logical defense of America’s values. I’ve never been pushed to consider that communism could be beneficial or the embargo detrimental.
Whether or not you study abroad, realize that you are still a global student and citizen. America needs to step away from the mirror and care about other countries’ cultures and perspectives to make its international reputation mirror our ideal America.
And in ten years, hopefully the foreign taxi cab driver will not ask me if I’m packing — not even mace.
Morgan Jones is a College junior from Colorado Springs, Co. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or send her a tweet @morganjo_. “Nuggets of Wisdom” appears every Thursday.
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