A stereotype is a fixed, over generalized belief about a particular group or class of people. (Cardwell, 1996). Stereotypes are mostly created during the culture stress and culture shock stages of Culture Shock. They may help the ego of someone suffering from culture shock, but it will not lead to adaptation to the new culture.

Why are people stereotyped based on their culture?

  • Fear of Differences: Stereotypes may arise from fear when people encounter someone who appears to be different than them. This fear might be related to imagined threats.
  • Media Sources: Popular media sources might also perpetuate stereotypes by portraying characters that belong to certain ethnic, gender and religious affiliations in a certain light.
  • Lack of Personal Experience: As individuals are exposed to different groups of people, there is a tendency to categorize or classify based upon one or two distinguishing factors. Categorization also exists to create a sense of belonging with a particular group. Often however, stereotypes emerge from a lack of experience with a particular group and are based upon assumptions.
  • Social Reference Groups: Social reference groups, such as family and friends, are another source of stereotypes. They might be passed down through jokes or comments.
  • The Way We Think - Social Cognition: The first step in prejudice is the creation of groups. Once we have mental categories, we group stimuli into them by similarities, downplaying differences between members of a group and exaggerating differences between members of different groups.
  • Prejudice and Economic Competition - Realistic Conflict Theory: Realistic Conflict Theory is the theory that limited resources lead to conflict between groups and result in increased prejudice and discrimination.

American Culture & Stereotypes

Stereotypes are a reality of any culture, and there are many stereotypes that exist about Americans, not all of which are positive.  This section is intended to prompt you to think about the following:

  • Are you seen as an “Ugly American”?
  • How can you change the world’s negative perception of the US and Americans?
  • Learn more about the current events related to US-Foreign Relations (especially as they pertain to your host country).

Since we (U.S. Americans) elect our leadership, we’re perceived as responsible for them and their unpopularity becomes ours. It is a big world, and there are a variety of views everywhere. Each of us has our own positions and views on controversial matters. Our ability to think for ourselves, act as we see appropriate, and support or not support a particular political or social agenda is part of our national heritage.  American students need to be prepared to study abroad and the extent to which these issues impact that experience. Many students have a very limited view of many current issues. They think the world is like the U.S. They are not necessarily open to learning that our society might be less than perfect in the eyes of others.  And, they are ill-prepared to serve as informal diplomats for the U.S. or even understand that they might have that role. And, when confronted by hostility abroad, they are simply dumbfounded about how anyone could feel that way about them.

What are some less flattering stereotypes about Americans? Americans are…

  • Arrogant
  • Loud and overly friendly
  • Prone to drink
  • Immature
  • Wealthy
  • Ignorant of other countries
  • Promiscuous
  • Always in a hurry

You should be aware of these stereotypes and try to behave in a way that shows natives of your host country that these traits cannot be applied arbitrarily.  You should recognize your American qualities and think about what cultural baggage you are bringing with you.

Also, commonly asked questions directed at you as an American may include:

  • Why are Americans so materialistic? Why are they so wasteful of natural resources?
  • Why are Americans so racist? How can you justify forcing the Native Americans onto reservations when the whole country belongs to them?
  • Why are Americans so ignorant of other countries?
  • Why does America give so much foreign aid to countries that abuse human rights?
  • Why are there so many homeless people in “the richest country in the world”?
  • Why are teachers so poorly paid in a country that claims to have one of the best educational systems?

As you begin to respond to any criticism, keep the following strategies in mind:

  • Try to understand the critic’s motives
  • Draw upon personal experiences and motivations
  • Avoid becoming defensive in their presence
  • Become more familiar with common U.S. facts and policies
    • U.S. Geography (e.g. differences in regions)
    • U.S. Political system (e.g. how does Congress differ from the Senate)
    • U.S. Judicial system (e.g. how does the jury system work in theory)
    • U.S. Foreign Policy (especially how it applies to your host country)