On Representing the American Identity Abroad

Nov 30, 2018 10:27:00 AM / by Christopher Halka

In this week's post, Christopher reflects on what it means to be an American abroad and navigate questions about his country and culture. He also sheds light on the benefits of getting to know locals, along with their perceptions and cultural background.

Over the course of this semester, I’ve had a first-hand account of what other Europeans think and assume about Americans. Throughout the semester every day has been a learning experience for me in that regard. Having the opportunity to be both a student and an intern enabled me to gain perspective from multiple points of view, allowing me to gain even more insight into my cultural identity. 

From the lens of a student/traveler, in my passing conversations with random people on the street and after learning that I’m from the US, I’ve noticed the conversation tends to shift toward discussing politics.

Camden Market
Welcome to London by way of Camden Market!

Europeans’ favorite topic of discussion is, you guessed it, Donald Trump. Most of the times people will regard our President as an orange-haired buffoon, in which I am in agreement with, however there are certainly times where people will refer to the President in a positive light. Although I don't agree with their opinion, I respect other people's opinions and will sometimes further engage them in conversation trying to get a better understanding of what their core values and beliefs are. Ultimately I understand that America’s current position as a global power, and its relations with other countries have frayed as a result of decisions made by the current President and that it has negatively impacted people’s perceptions of Americans as a whole.

Electric Avenue at Camden Market
Passing through Camden Market.

I have consistently kept this thought in the back of my mind when dealing with strangers whether in London or elsewhere in Europe during my travels. I feel that those preconceptions do not represent my core values and beliefs and that during my finite amount of time abroad this semester, it is my duty to try and change people's perceptions of Americans. The most important thing I’ve taken from my time abroad is that the perception of culture has expanded and has enabled me to realize that culture is the blend when people from all different backgrounds come together.

Regent Street
Walking past Regent Street.

Being raised in a predominantly white suburban neighborhood for the majority of my life, I have mostly been exposed to people who mostly shared the same characteristics as me and continuing my education in upstate New York, it has been more of the same. After spending time in London I’ve come to realize that it is not the people that drives culture but it is the purpose behind the people and the common goal they are trying to achieve that drives culture.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall2018_London_Christopher Halka_Biggest Mosque in London
Outside one of the biggest Muslim institutions in London.

London is one of the most diverse cities in the world, and it has been a very valuable learning experience to meet and intern with people from all different types of backgrounds. For instance, of the seven people working in the Finance department at my internship, each individual has a different ethnicity or cultural background ranging from Portuguese, French, Hungarian, Russian, Spanish, Moroccan, and British. Each of us have a different upbringing and have different ideas, and contribute in different ways where all ideas are valuable. My time in London has truly opened my mind to an abundance of new ideas and ways to view the world. As the semester starts to come to an end I believe it is important that I reflect on and cherish the time I have spent in this wonderful city. I hope you enjoyed this post and will continue reading the rest of my posts! Thanks for reading!

Thanks, Christopher!

Christopher Halka

Christopher Halka is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2018, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An Accounting major at Siena College, he is studying abroad in London this semester.

Christopher's journey continues every Friday so stay tuned.

Learn More about the CAPA London Program

Topics: London, England, Local Culture