I grew up in the Philippines as a missionary kid, otherwise known as an “MK.” When the people I meet discover this, I sometimes find myself answering a litany of common questions.
“Did you live in a hut in the jungle?”
“Did you eat bugs?”
“What do you miss the most?”
Mangoes. I miss all the food, but primarily the mangoes.
The most common question I get is simply “What was it like?” Normally the asker looks at me with expectant eyes, waiting for exotic tales of a far-away land, but my everyday experience was not so different from living in the U.S.A.
Though there are some missionary families that live in a hut in the jungle (I surmise they are very rare nowadays), my childhood and teenage years were filled with video games, watching movies, and hanging out at the mall (one of the few places with air conditioning). I recently learned that when my wife discovered this about me soon after we met, her only mental image of the Philippines involved the notorious headhunter tribes, possibly from movies like the ones I spent my teenage years watching with a bucket of popcorn and coke at the movie theater five minutes away from my house in Manila.
These expectations, though mostly innocent, are born out of stereotypes, stereotypes of MKs in my case but also, and more importantly, stereotypes of whole people groups and cultures. And stereotypes can be dangerous.
Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks about this danger in her 2009 TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” In it she says, “Show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” If we base our view of whole people groups and cultures on a limited perspective often derived from videos and images on a screen, then those people become one-dimensional stereotypes, robbed of their humanity and dignity.
"Show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become." — Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieWatch Chimamanda's full TED Talk about the danger of a single story here: http://bit.ly/2utmnE5
Posted by TED on Monday, July 16, 2018
So how do we avoid reducing other people to stereotypes?
The best way is to go, meet them where they live, and experience the cultures first hand! In his book The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
I couldn’t agree more.
For college students, studying abroad presents some of the best opportunities to travel and experience another culture, often while studying an academic area of interest and often with financial assistance from the university. At UMHB, students can spend the whole spring semester in London studying literature and religion among other topics, travel for almost two weeks in Italy studying the art and architecture, or take a business course that visits local business owners in places like Thailand or Lithuania. Other universities have a wealth of opportunities as well.
When done well, studying abroad will ask students to engage with people of a different culture, presenting opportunities to view others in all their differences, but perhaps more importantly, in all their similarities. Stereotypes tend to focus on differences, but when we really get a chance to talk to someone from another culture, we often find ourselves having more in common than we thought. When we discover that shared experience, the stereotypes tend to crumble, leaving us with a better understanding of what it means to be human in a global society.Do you want to be introduced to a new culture? Try new and daring things? Do you want to be exposed to a new language or are you more comfortable in an English-speaking country? Do you want a short trip (one week) to something long-term (an entire semester)? UMHB offers several options that can suit your wants and needs from a Study Abroad trip.