In the months before I set out on exchange, I was told that I’d fall in love with my host country. I knew that’d be true too. I was going to France. How could I not love all of the new sites, people and food? What I didn’t realize, however, is how hard I’d fall in love with the country I’ve lived in my whole life at the same time.
One of the many benefits of going on an exchange, completely immersing yourself in another culture, and putting yourself in the middle of its people, is that you get to see how others view the place that you call home. This can be both positive and negative, of course. Within my first week in France and after hearing about what people, both kids and adults, thought of America, I realized that I’d have a lot of teaching, as well as learning, to do.
The first major shock I had in France dealing with my nationality is with the fact that every single time I told people that I was from New York, they immediately assumed I was from the center of Manhattan. So many people here don’t realize that there’s an entire state of New York, and that’s a little frustrating at times.
What I’ve found most interesting though, is how almost all French believe that the United States is the most non-worldly minded country in the world. For example, my history class just started a unit on World War II, and my classmates as well as my teacher asked me not only if I had studied it before, but even more shocking was if I even knew what it was.
People of every society have false assumptions about other cultures. Even I had stereotypes of the French in my mind when I arrived in France, but I soon realized that they were nowhere close to being true. Despite the many misconceptions, however, the French absolutely love the idea of the “American Dream.” People wear bold American flag prints, whether it be on a shirt, a tie, shoes or handbags, every day.
Much of the home décor that’s considered “in” right now, have words written in English, or has an image of the Statue of Liberty or Empire State Building on it. Many of the television shows here that play during the prime time of the evening are all the popular American shows, except with French voice-overs.
One of the reasons I’m here, however, is to help teach them that my life back home is not always exactly like America is portrayed on TV. Just this past week, my English teacher asked me to make a PowerPoint presentation about life in the United States. I spoke for about 30 minutes, showing them pictures of Cooperstown and explained how the majority of New Yorkers lived.
I had never felt so passionate or proud in a single 30 minutes than I did that day. I immediately light up and feel the biggest sense of pride whenever I see anything United States-themed, whatever it may be. I say to myself, that’s my country. That’s representing not only the country I love, but the country that millions of Americans love, and thanks to this exchange year, I now know that millions of people all over the world share the same love as well.
It’s such a great feeling to know that while people of other cultures respect and look up to what’s come to be known as the “American Dream,” is not just a dream for me; it’s my reality.
Ashley Bliss is a Cooperstown Rotary exchange student. Follow her adventures on her blog at www.ablissfulbonjour.wordpress.com