Walking back from the ISA office, I had the strangest thoughts and feelings. It was a perspective I had never had before – I hated myself. I’m sure everyone has hated themselves before. Okay, I have hated myself before. But this time, I hated myself for the way I was born; something I can do nothing about – being an American.
I was thinking about my boyfriend. He was a foreign exchange student last year at UMKC from Brazil. He is also a first generation college student and went to a school that resulted in his basically having to reteach himself in order to enter college- which in Brazil is based on merit rather than money.
And I realized that the systems in place in America eliminate literally so many challenges. Foreign exchange students are expected to either know, or learn English just to attend classes. And then, “cultural immersion” is not a goal, it is expected. By that I mean, there are real life consequences if my boyfriend did not assimilate to American culture. He was not provided basic necessities like bedding, a pillow, or a meal plan upon arrival. He had to figure out that Home Depot did not in fact have home goods, and navigate his way to Wal Mart before he slept comfortably at night.
Here in Morocco, we were not only provided with bedding and a hot meal upon arrival, but I live in an upper-middle class apartment and a woman comes to cook and clean six days out of the week.
In America, foreign exchange students who assimilate most are the “best”. When going out to eat, waiters and waitresses will address the person with the best American accent.
Here, it is difficult to integrate into the culture. If I try to speak (my admittedly broken) Arabic to shopkeepers, they will speak french. And if I speak french, often times vendors will speak English to me.
And then, I have to wonder, is it even ethical for me to be here? Scholars (here I am thinking of Edward Said and Brian Edwards) believe that the western world imposes itself on the “Oriental” world, in a kind of neo-colonialist way. I am now wondering, how does my role as an American foreign exchange student contribute to “Orientalism”?