National Identity Abroad

While you are abroad it is likely that you will be identified as an American student. The people you meet will likely have an opinion about the United States and the policies of our government, and will be eager to discuss them with you. In addition to their views about our politics, some may also have an idea about the way that Americans behave based on their media portrayal of American people. Current attitudes toward the U.S. vary widely depending on your place of study.

The majority of the world receives news regarding the actions of our government and they may be well informed on the policies being made. Many will be interested to hear what you have to say in regard to the current events, so it is important to be informed about recent changes happening in the U.S. It is important to understand, regardless of your own political affiliations, that actions made by our government are considered to be controversial and some people may react more strongly to your identity as an American.

While it is best to assume positive intent in these situations, be mindful of your own safety and have a plan to remove yourself from the situation should your safety be a question. However, if you are willing, it may be best to explain your own opinion on the matter and explain how we came to this point as a country. It is also important to remember that some people’s opinions will not be easily changed and sometimes the best thing to do is remove yourself.

Tips for discussing U.S. American affairs overseas: 

• Accept that your identity as an American may be confronted and try not to be personally offended.
• Research recent U.S. activity in international affairs, specifically those related to your host country/region.  Continue to keep up with both U.S. and international news.  Have some answers ready to go about your opinions and reactions to these events. Discussing politics may be more commonplace in your host country than in the U.S.
• Try not to put down your country just to be seen positively.  Listen to different viewpoints and express your opinions, ideas and concerns with an open mind.  Try to engage in meaningful conversation to understand and not simply debate or argue.
• Walk away if things become heated.  Always keep your safety in mind at all times. 
• A good sense of humor goes a long way.

Questions to consider for further research:

• What are the current policies being made in the U.S. and how do they affect my host country?
• What are relations like between the U.S. and my host country?
• How will I react if faced with hostility towards my identity as an American?
• How much exposure to American politics does my host country receive?
• Did the opinion of my host country towards the U.S. change after any recent presidential elections?
• How does my host country’s media portray the U.S., both in regards to popular culture and the political climate?
• What are the political leanings of my host country?
• What are the current crises of my host country and do they relate to the current events in the U.S.?
• What are common misconceptions my host country has about the U.S. and how am I prepared to challenge those ideas?
• What are common misconceptions the U.S. has about my host country and how am I prepared to challenge those ideas?

Resources for engaging with your host country:

English translations of local news:

BBC news
New Zealand


Other helpful resources:

Compare country dynamics
Familiarize yourself with the geography of the area
Map of political leanings in Europe (2016)
Most Conservative countries
Most Liberal countries


Additional Resources:

Glimpse Study Abroad Guide to American Identity Abroad
Anti-Americanism and Response to American Power
The Princeton Project on National Security 
Coping with Anti-Americanism: A Guide to Getting the Most Out of Studying Abroad

University of Kentucky activity to consider perceptions of US American identity abroad