My Stereotypes Do Not Define Me

After living in a completely new environment for slightly over a month, you come across some things that you normally wouldn't back home. I recently moved to Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. for higher education from my hometown, São Paulo, Brazil. At the international student orientation, I began noticing specific responses and behaviors as reactions to stating my nationality. During the international orientation, they gathered all of us into a room to explain what it means to be an international student at Babson (as they most likely would at any institution). They also brought up the topics of racism, sexism, immigration prejudice, and the consideration for stereotypes. By having this conversation with us, they wanted us to be aware of possible conflicts or uncomfortable situations we might encounter during our time here. In my pure innocence, I didn't think I would hear "ignorant" comments as Babson is known for their extensive international population and high level of tolerance.

As the rest of the class joined us the next day of orientation, we engaged in icebreakers and after multiple introductions I realized how people saw me after I said I was Brazilian. Many would ask me if I "knew how to dance" or if I "could Samba for them" The expectations these individuals had of me as I was being held against standards that I am not sure I am able to meet was overwhelming, and it was all due to my nationality. Yet, it wasn't only the fact that I was Brazilian that mattered, my gender impacted greatly what was asked of me. I realized that usually the response to a man would be "Do you play soccer?" whereas to a woman the questions were "Can you dance?" This made me interested in not only the stereotypes of what each gender does in Brazil in accordance to international media but also how the problem of assumption expands beyond cultural biases.

I don't blame individuals for their lack of knowledge about my country, or any country for that matter. However, as a citizen of a world going through a rapid and intense process of globalization, I do think we all should hold each other accountable for asking biased questions based on what the media portrays or what one has heard of about any given culture. It would be much simpler and more courteous to ask a question on what the culture is like in "x" country or what someone likes to do in their free time rather than making assumptions. This immediately reduces the offensiveness when asking a question about where someone is from. Another proactive way to approaching these situations is starting off with a genuine apology, for example "I'm sorry if this question might seem stupid, but what is the main sport in your country?". There are many ways to approaching this type of conversation, it is just a matter of being open minded and conscious of the vocabulary being used.

I do recognize that sometimes even I fall trap to stereotypes, and end up assuming things about someone because of my limited exposure to their nationality. Even by acknowledging this weakness, there is a chance that biases occur nevertheless, I do think it is more appropriate to ask what may sound like a stupid question, rather than making an unfair judgment over someone. For instance, if you do not know what language is spoken in Brazil don't hesitate to simply ask. It is better than assuming we speak Spanish or Brazilian just because it's logical in regards to where we are placed on the map or because it is the name of the country. Chances are you will get a giggle from the Brazilian being asked, however we would be more than pleased to share that we speak Portuguese and even follow up with a discussion on our culture. It all comes down to the openness of each one to learning about a culture. We will always have them in the back of our mind and someone might fit them exactly to those descriptions but that does not mean that all others from that same place are the same. Think about how you want to be characterized and if you want to be judged on what international media says about your country, would it be fair to you or would you rather be judged based on your personality?