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Mentor Advice


Do you feel you have changed as a result of your experience?

3 Replies from Mentors

  • mentor picture  Marilyn Jackson
    Marilyn Jackson
    Assistant Director, Office of International Programs
    San Francisco State University
    Gaining a new perspective on the U.S. - Discovering their "Americaness"

    Gaining a new perspective on the U.S. - Discovering their "Americaness"

    Studying abroad in a host country is often the first time that all students begin to think critically about what it means to be American. As they go through "culture shock" they realize that they have cultural and societal expectations that are shaped by growing up in the U.S. They are not Nigerian or French or British. Their experiences make them uniquely American. For African American students this sometimes comes as a surprise. For a variety of reasons, including racism and historical and current discrimination, but also social and family networks and allegiances, African American students may see themselves first as "Black" or African American, but not just "American" no hypen. Often African American students are surprised when people in the host country refer to them first by their nationality ("the American") rather than their skin color. They may also be surprised when they find themselves instinctively defending the U.S. or acting in an unexpectedly patriotic manner when someone criticizes the U.S., even though they might be even more critical U.S. policies, government and society when they are home. In the host country the American identity takes precedent over race identities. This can lead to some very emotional soul searching, for example, how can I be so passionate about a place that has routinely discriminated against me? James Baldwin (1955) in Notes of a Native Son wrote about the African Americans in France and their battle for identity and the importance of facing the reality of being American , being African American and the uniqueness of that experience. Many African Americans that I have interviewed, first find their new found "Americaness" disconcerting, but ultimately empowering. They return home to the U.S. with a new sense of pride of ownership of American and commitment to shape and change American so that it lives up to its promise of freedom and justice for all.
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