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Overseas Ambassador Reflection, Fall 2016: Austin O.

Posted on January 08, 2017

“The fact is, with every friendship you make, and every bond of trust you establish, you are shaping the image of America projected to the rest of the world. This is so important. So when you study abroad you’re actually helping making America stronger.” Michelle Obama spoke these powerful words in a 2011 speech supporting the 100,000 Strong Initiative. I did a report discussing this initiative and its mission of sending 100,000 minority students abroad to China by the year 2020, but it was not until I came moved to Thailand that I realize how crucial the First Lady’s comments would be.

Since the beginning of my semester abroad, I quickly realized that I was going to stick out on my new campus. There were over 100 exchange students in my program, yet my two colleagues and I were the only students from the USA. Not only were we the only Americans, but we were also the only African-Americans in the entire school. Despite our physical noticeability, I took this experience as an opportunity to represent my country—and people that looked like me—as authentically as I could. To my surprise, I did not experience disrespect from the Thai people because of my skin, but instead I was embraced with open arms... Literally :-)  

Almost every day, another international student asked, “So, who are you voting for this election?” which was a huge culture shock. Not because I do not want to discuss politics, but because the people asking have no ties to the United States. From France, Denmark, Thailand and even Germany, the outcome of our presidential election was a topic that extended far beyond the borders of the USA.

Each trip to the mall or night out with friends turns into a political discussion on what or how the US should operate. These conversations helped me realized the socio-economic impact that the US can have across the globe. Usually the person inquiring about American politics had no malicious intent, but rather wanted the best for our country. This was an entirely different perspective, that opened my eyes to a completely different paradigm regarding modern globalization.

As time passed, I remember the very words of First Lady Obama and her charge of “shaping the image of America.” So, calmly and openly I would listen to their views and try my best to convey my own. It made for great discussion and brought me closer to the exchange students in my cohort.

My advice to those going abroad is: be prepared to be considered a source of knowledge about your country and what it stands for. You will constantly be challenged to explain why things are the way they are, even though you are not required to be an expert. Instead, think of what makes your country great and understand that, like all good things, there are flaws. And like most citizens, you have pride.

Authored by: Trixie Cordova

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