Column: Foreign Relations
Published: Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 23:09
Since I was 16, I’ve been abroad alone in the U.S. Previously, my parents dropped me and my little brother alone in Australia and New Zealand for a couple of months so that we could gain some global perspectives when we were only 12 and 11. Clearly different from the local perspectives, my point of view on the world as a Korean was unique for quite a long time.
After six and half years of studying in the U.S., the 178 days of my abroad experience in Germany last semester reminded me how Americanized I had become. Since I speak languages with an American accent, a good number of Europeans and Latin Americans thought I was an American before I told them I am a South Korean citizen. I had mixed feelings about that after the years of trying to get rid of foreign accents and blend into American communities. Having experienced American racism at high schools and even at Boston College, such efforts to hide my national identity were necessary for survival, and I lost an objective filter that used to differentiate myself from the rest of my American friends. And, until I landed in Munich, I almost believed the perspective that the U.S. was the best in everything in the world.
Germany is a country many U.S. citizens would find comfortable, with American music, movies, and products everywhere in public. Most of the Germans I met also could speak in English along with other foreign languages. Looking at posters of President Barack Obama in Berlin, I kept the perception that Germans love everything about America, even its president, until I regained my international perspective.
To generalize, I got the impression that Germans love America, but they dislike Americans. The aversion is not only limited to Germans, but also widely shared with Brazilians, Chinese, Croatians, Czechs, English, French, Irish, Italians, Koreans, Macedonians, Polish, Slovakians, Spanish, Swedish, etc. Just as many Americans and Europeans make fun of Asian tourist stereotypes, many non-U.S. citizens do see the stereotyped American attitude as the norm.
Most common American attitudes—if you didn’t know—include: “America is the best” and “I don’t care.” Based on my observations, many Americans keep their “best” status among their European friends. Then they begin to say “I don’t care” when Europeans start asking “why” about American behaviors and thinking. For instance, friends from Brazil and Mexico told me: “Americans think that they are the only Americans.” Regardless of the political and historical usage of “America” for the U.S.A., the South Americans’ perspective was quite refreshing. And, I couldn’t agree more to the complaints of many Europeans and Latin Americans.
Don’t get me wrong. I like my American friends, who I will have to leave when I graduate from BC, because I now understand them. What those Europeans don’t have is more detailed knowledge about the way Americans are. Just as many Americans are ignorant of foreign cultures, many Europeans and Asians are ignorant of the detailed backstories of the U.S.
The source of anti-Americanism often comes from the realpolitik of the U.S. foreign policy that has overwhelmed the sovereignties of numerous countries in the name of international justice or international constructivism. Regardless of American interest or peaceful purpose, American interventions around the world have expanded the anti-American sentiments. And, such U.S. foreign policy has shaped the behaviors of Americans abroad. Numerous American students disregard the fact that America’s current dominance doesn’t mean they can act as if they conquered the whole world.
I hope more students go abroad and understand why much of the rest of the world dislikes Americans The quality of citizens of the world’s most powerful country must be learned through education and real experience.