In American Studies, we are encouraged to pursue a year of study in the United States, so that we can experience learning about the country from its own cultural perspective. After a month of studying at the University of Wyoming, I have discovered that, as international exchange students, we have the opportunity to learn so much more than that. We can learn to see our host country, and ourselves, from the unique perspectives of students from all over the globe.
On the 21st of September, I embarked on a weekend trip to Yellowstone, alongside more than 40 other international students and scholars. The University of Wyoming runs this same trip each year for incoming international students and to say that they are very well organized would be an understatement. I was able to enjoy some of the most amazing views and the enduring beauty of mother nature in fantastic waterfalls, hiking trails and even a bison or two (or many more). I saw the Grand Teton mountain range reflected in a perfectly clear lake and the wonderment I felt reflected on the faces of my new friends.
It was a brilliant trip all-round, and I had the privilege of experiencing this American wonder with other students from China, Kenya and Taiwan. A significant amount of our time was spent exchanging anecdotes on our American experience thus far and comparing the views to our home countries’ (sadly, even I was incapable of making Mount Snowdon sound cooler than Kilimanjaro). It was a genuinely humbling experience to be able to converse so openly about the current affairs and the global perspective, even and possibly especially when the news wasn’t all that good.
Engaging in cultural and political discussion within an international group can open some wounds whilst still providing hope. I spoke extensively about international attitudes toward the LGBT+ community with a student from a country that has made being gay illegal, and I listened to someone’s experiences of Islamaphobia in a country infamous for its recent discrimination against Muslims entering the country. Collectively, we were able to navigate our way through both literal mountains and the hardships that each of us faced; individually and nationally.
Additionally, over the course of this trip, there were many times in which I became the only person that could not speak in the language being used by the rest of the group. It was another humbling moment which highlighted the hypocritical expectation that everyone should be able to speak English, and very well too. Often in the UK and the US, people are ridiculed and disregarded because they are not fluent enough to meet socially acceptable standards, and this can extend to countries where English isn’t even the national language. When was the last time we expected ourselves, as native English speakers, to be fluent in the language of a country we are holidaying in? Being multi-lingual to any degree is an admirable strength, and more than most, those of us studying in Wales should appreciate that. The country we live in has had its own long and difficult relationship with the English language superiority complex, and all around us you can see how it has fought back.
All in all, this trip was a model globe to the prominent model UN. International study allowed us to explore global discourse in the currently tenuous political state of the world, whilst also enabling us to explore a beautiful landscape and make bets as to who would spot the first bear. We were able to make friends with people from so many different countries and acknowledge the irony of some of our friendships when compared with modern stereotyping. Yellowstone was a beautiful reminder that one of the truly important opportunities of studying abroad is sharing in the global narrative. Widen your comfort zone; explore other cultures! Experience the hilarity that ensues when colloquial terms are lost in translation, and being the only one in the room that doesn’t speak the language.
What a tragedy it would be to travel halfway around the globe only to engage with those whose experiences mirror yours perfectly.
by Bronwen Beard