The Questions I've Been Asked as an American Abroad

Maria Oldenburg
November 16, 2016

Before I left for Buenos Aires, my study abroad adviser told me that not only would I be learning about Argentine culture during my semester abroad, but I would be unconsciously teaching Argentines about American culture at the same time. She explained that I might be the first American some Argentines have ever met, and that I should be prepared for them to ask me about elements of my culture or country that they find interesting or confusing.

She was right.

In my few months abroad, I’ve learned that people, even strangers, are incredibly curious about the United States and wholeheartedly want to learn more. I’ve been asked a wide range of interesting and unexpected, and sometimes intrusive (although always polite), questions from a variety of people—taxi drivers, tour guides, language partners, friends, host family members, even boys in bars.

I’ve handled questions about poverty in the United States, and I’ve had people make comments about how rich they assumed I was because I was from a Western country. I’ve been asked about racism, discrimination, and police brutality. I’ve defended my country’s two-party political system and described how the electoral college works, in both English and Spanish. I’ve had conversations about drugs and the drinking culture in the states, and I’ve been asked about my religious beliefs minutes later.

After almost four months of these questions, I can say that it’s fascinating to see what Argentines have deduced about the typical American style of living from TV shows and movies, and what stereotypes they’ve acquired about Americans because of the media. For some reason, Argentines always assume The Simpsons is an accurate portrayal of life and family dynamics and are shocked when I laugh and disagree. Someone asked me if cheerleaders really exist—and if so, are they the stereotypical “popular mean girls” that they are on television?

Likewise, I’m always shocked by how up-to-date Argentines are about United States’ news, especially in the months leading up to the elections. Every Argentine knew the candidates, knew their basic platforms, and knew the latest scandals surrounding them—probably better than some Americans did. In fact, almost every person I talked to wanted to know my thoughts on Donald Trump, both before and after he won the presidency, and each had their own opinions to share about whether his victory was good or bad.

While I was slightly put off by these questions in the beginning of my time in Argentina (what if I answered wrong??), I’ve grown to love these unpredictable question and answer sessions, both humorous and hard-hitting. I think it’s wonderful that people are so interested in learning more about my country and that I get the opportunity to share while, at the same time, learning more about Argentina.

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Maria Oldenburg

<p>I am Maria Oldenburg, and I&#39;m a sophomore Economics and International Studies double major at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. On campus, you can find me pretending to be a professional photographer, exploring the local coffee scene, or hopelessly planning my dream backpacking trip across Southeast Asia. Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I can&#39;t wait to eat my weight in empanadas, learn quality puns in Spanish, and tango with the best of them during my semester in Buenos Aires!</p>

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