I have lived abroad for almost a year now, and in that time I have learned and discovered much about myself and about the world around me. I have seen, watched, and read so much, but out of all the great lessons I have learned in this past year, the greatest would be that, no matter what, you must be proud of who you are and where you come from. Whether you are from high society, or you are from hardships and poverty. Whether you have never had the opportunity to go to grade school, or you have a college degree. Whether you come from a dysfunctional family, or everything has been picture perfect. No matter what your story is, I have come to find that the worst thing you can do to yourself and to your image is to apologize for who you are and where you come from. Because I have discovered that you must first love and respect yourself, before you can ever expect the same from someone who grew up in a different culture, social circle, or continent than you.
When I first traveled to Europe, I remember feeling something I had never felt before: I was embarrassed of where I come from and the culture I grew up in. I was thrown into a country where Americans are not number one, cultures are different, and the opinions of who Americans are is very low. I would see American girls and boys making a fool of themselves, ignorantly talking to everyone in English, acting superior in a foreign country, and running the streets at night getting drunk and giving Americans a sexually easy reputation. I have found that Europeans think Americans are uneducated in literature, music, visual arts, and language, and this fact made all of my years of going to school and hours of studying feel so insignificant as I compared myself to the cultured Europeans. And as I learned what the stereotypes of Americans are, and specifically Texans, and I found myself ashamed because of these stereotypes. I began to walk the streets in silence just so no one would hear my English, I stopped wearing the bright colored clothes I love so much and instead reverted to wearing only blacks and neutrals so I could seem “more Italian”. I stopped smiling so much, stopped taking photos for in fear of looking like a tourist, ordered coffee how Italians order coffee, found myself taking up things that I do not enjoy, denying who I am, and all for the sake of not getting labeled as a stupid American.
Yet, as time has pasted, and as I have experienced more abroad, something has changed within me. I finally got fed up with hiding who I really am and being ashamed of where I come from just because some Americans choose to taint the American reputation. So I pulled out the bright colors, slapped on a smile and decided my goal for being abroad would not be to blend in with the Europeans and the Italians, but to own up to who I really am and where I come from. My goal is, even if it was only to changed the opinion of one person, to change someone’s ideas and mindsets of who Americans are, shatter stereotypes, surprise people in a good way, and leave a positive legacy abroad.
I have found that the most important thing to do is to be proud of yourself and where you are from. Because no matter where you go in this world, you will find people who judge you because of where you come from, your skin color, and the language you speak. But if you first respect yourself and find pride and beauty from your story and your situation, it is surprising the respect that comes to follow.
This issue of leaving a positive legacy and being proud of who you are and your background is very near to my heart. I believe that if more people acted on this instead of accepting the preconceived stereotypes given to them and their culture, the world, and all its people, would become that much more united, because everything great always starts with little actions.