By Student and Host Family Advisor Janel Cook
A stereotype is defined as a non-factual assumption about individuals or a group of people. Stereotypes can be positive or negative and can pertain to race, religion, gender, occupation, age, culture, and more.
Everyone around the world holds stereotypes to some degree. Some are conscious and some are subconscious. Many factors influence stereotypical thinking, including: culture, communities, religion, advertising, movies, TV Shows, music, celebrities, news, etc.
For example, some commonly held stereotypes about Americans are that we are loud and arrogant, we eat a lot of fast food (particularly McDonald’s and pizza), and everything in the U.S. is large compared to other countries (i.e. houses, streets, cars, yards, food portions, and people).
St. Paul Prep students are influenced by American pop culture well before they arrive on program. They have probably watched American films or TV shows, listened to American music, and read about American celebrities and/or politics. That exposure has most likely influenced their ideas of the United States as a whole.
One of our goals is to foster international understanding between cultures. Every student who decides to participate in one of our programs is deciding to live in the U.S., which means they will come face-to-face with the reality of life in the U.S., and therefore, with any stereotypes that they hold about Americans and the United States of America.
Host Families are in the same position. They volunteer to host a student from a specific country. The student arrives and perhaps it is different than expected. Ultimately, both sides are faced with the realities of each other and must learn to allow one another to be who they are as individuals. Sometimes reaching full cultural understanding takes a while, depending on how strongly assumptions are held by each party.
Cultural exchange is a wonderful opportunity for students, Host Families, and SPP staff to challenge what we think is true, which is an important factor in breaking down stereotypes. Through these experiences, we grow more knowledgeable to the realities of cultural exchange. What an enriching experience to share with one another!