The word “American” sometimes leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of foreigners. Let’s be honest, vacationing Americans are not the most sensitive to other cultures and customs. We have created the stereotype that American vacationers can be quite literally “idiots abroad”. When students study abroad, we can sometimes suffer from the effects of this stereotype. Luckily, there is a trick to avoiding cold shoulders from service workers, and stop prices from doubling or tripling everywhere you go. To foreigners “American” may be bitter, but I promise you from experience, “Texan” tastes as sweet as tea.
I studied abroad in China, in an affiliate program, not an exchange program. This is important for a few reasons. First, it means that the people in my program were from all over the U.S., not just other UT students. Second, it means that the university I was studying abroad at hosted programs catering to colleges all over the world. The result is an interesting mix of neighbors in the international dormitory. I shared a kitchen with people from India, lived next to people from South Africa, and spent a lot of my free time with people from Russia and London. Keeping this in mind, trust me when I say, no matter where you go or who you talk to, everybody knows about Texas.
In the interview for my internship abroad, Texas took up most of the conversation. My Chinese roommate instantly bonded with me when he found out where I’m from.When our class took trips to places like the street markets, I almost always paid less than the other students, and finding something to talk about with international students from different programs was pretty easy.
It didn’t matter where people were from, their eyes all lit up the same when I claimed my Texan identity over my American one.
Sure, it may not be what UT had in mind when it thought of the slogan “what starts here, changes the world”, but it does make a difference. If you are staying longer than a Maymester, you might find yourself frequenting a new favorite coffee shop or restaurant. Stumble on the topic of where you are from with the owner or manager and “BAM!”, instant immersion experience. Lacking a good connection with the culture? Talk about where you are from with your new international friends. They might suddenly take you to a new restaurant to compare Korean and Texan BBQ. In a country where people don’t have access to land or guns to hunt. Congratulations on your new intercultural dialogue with those around you.
You don’t need to know how to ride a horse or shoot a gun. You don’t even need an accent. Just say, “y’all” instead of “you guys” (because why wouldn’t you), and everybody wants to be your friend. Finding a reason to bring up where you are from in a conversation is not that difficult when you are studying abroad. I urge all of you to take advantage of this unique trick available to us as UT students. I know it seems crazy, but I wouldn’t suggest it if it didn’t work. This made my study abroad trip go from good to great, and I know it will for everyone else as well.