Last April, I submitted an op-ed to the Daily Caller website that was not explicitly linked to politics, but in my mind was both relevant and important: fighting the nasty stereotype that my fellow Americans and I have overseas.
I wasn’t saying that we should obsess about what others think about us, but after years of traveling I had seen firsthand how deeply ingrained the ‘ugly American’ stereotype was in the general psyche of the global populace. It made me sad (and a little frustrated at times), because I love the U.S. and my fellow Americans, and overall I think our country is amazing and we’re pretty cool.
I also told the editor of the website that my op-ed topic was relevant to politics because, as a graduate student in London, I had studied the link between political ties between countries and the undercurrents of public diplomacy conducted between those countries. I specialized in cultural diplomacy, or how countries export and promote their cultures around the world in the hopes of fostering greater understanding and cooperation.
With this in mind, when Americans travel overseas, they aren’t just tourists. They are full-fledged diplomats (minus the immunity). I’ve had several conversations with locals in Cairo, London, Seoul, Buenos Aires, and so forth, where they regurgitated typical stereotypes about Americans and I tried to listen patiently. By tried to listen patiently, I mean I sometimes had to grit my teeth a little. But, it was fascinating that sometimes after just venting, the people would look at me and say, “Oh, but you’re American, and I like you. Hm.” I tried to tell them that their perceptions of Americans were not necessarily correct, or even close to being accurate.
So, while traveling, there is a degree of responsibility that travelers have to represent their countries well. In little ways, they’re contributing to the political/social/economic success of their homelands, even if they don’t realize it. The op-ed I wrote was just a short, simple compilation of suggestions for how my fellow Americans and I can travel with the intention of enjoying ourselves and showing others how great our country is, because it is, and it deserves to have traveling ambassadors who do it justice.
The op-ed I wrote is below: