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How Going Abroad Helped Shape my Identity as an American

by Cayley Pinson
American students abroad in Chile | AIFS Study Abroad

When I embarked on my study abroad journey to Viña del Mar, Chile, I was 19 years old and a very inexperienced traveler. I had only left the country one time, on a family trip to Canada. My inexperience in foreign travel was a bit daunting, but I was more just giddy and excited to go abroad! Having never experienced a culture very different than my own, I couldn’t wait to see everyday life in Chile. However, as I learned more about other cultures, I was able to evaluate my own in a way I never had before.

It is clear that the United States has an important position on the world stage. I knew that what happens in American pop culture, American politics, and American news affects the world. I was even a little worried before departing about my identity as an American affecting interactions with others who might have some sort of animosity towards the United States. I was even warned before going abroad to “act less American” in the way that I behave, talk, or even dress. All of this made me a little nervous going into an experience where I would be around very few Americans, where I would spend every day exploring with Chileans and others from every part of the world.

My insecurities were quickly quelled as soon as I stepped on the plane to fly to Santiago, Chile. I sat next to a Chilean woman and her grandson who spoke to me in Spanish. As they realized that I am American, they were very excited to interact with me. We asked each other a few questions about our lives and cultures, and worked through the language barrier between us.

Once I arrived in Chile, my host family was so welcoming to me, and kept their warm energy for the duration of my stay. The students at Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez were all so kind and jumped to tell me about Chilean culture and their lives. In return, they had respectful questions about my culture and were genuinely interested in learning about American culture from an American. Of course at times there were misconceptions about American culture, but I always had civil, open conversations to educate on those disparities.

Being in another culture also helped me reflect on my own. Looking in from a different angle made me appreciate where I come from and grow my pride in my country. I remember talking about Eleanor Roosevelt in my Human Rights in Chile class, and feeling fortunate to be from the same country as such an important, global figure. 

In conclusion, something that I was nervous about before going abroad became one of my favorite reflective experiences by the end. Studying abroad gave me the opportunity to learn about all sorts of different cultures as well as my own, and helped me appreciate our differences. After my journey, I feel more excited than ever to continue traveling and growing as a person, an adventurer, and an American.

American students abroad in Chile | AIFS Study Abroad
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