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Cultural Camouflage Comparison

Immediately after being dumped into a new country, a study abroad student faces an interesting choice of cultural identity. The student can either keep their American behavior and appearance, or the student can try to acculturate their mannerisms and dress to the style of their new temporary home. Obviously between these extremes there is a grayscale rainbow. Most students (in my limited experience) seem to fit happily in the middle, with the majority retaining many more American characteristics than mimicking new ones.

This decision affects the study abroad experience more than one might think. Here I have compiled a list of various effects, good and bad, that I have noticed. Disclaimer: This is by no means comprehensive nor exclusive. This is just my personal insight.  

American Appearance

  • Foreigner Solidarity: Other foreigners, Americans in particular obviously, will automatically seek you out or try to befriend you.
  • Dumb Tourist Treatment: If you look like an American, ticos will assume you are a tourist and treat you as such. They will try to talk to you in English, for one. In souvenir shops they are more likely to jack up the price. Assuming that you have been to a vast array of beaches, they will ask you which was your favorite or try to recommend a beach or hotel. The hotel likely will be luxurious and out of any student’s price range.
  • Sexual Harassment: This one affects women almost exclusively. Old creepy ticos love throwing piropos, or sexual compliments. Most are in Spanish, the assumption being that as a dumb American you won’t understand. Others are blatantly in English. Either way, it is offensive and slightly terrifying.
  • Language Partner: As already stated, Ticos will talk to you in English. I just have to restate it because it occurs so frequently. There have been several occasions where I have done my darnedest to speak in Spanish to some ticos and they stubbornly would only talk in English.
  • National Representation: If you do or say something stupid, it is reflected upon the United States and furthers stereotypes.

Tico Appearance (if you manage to pull it off)

  • They will treat you like a tico!!! Weird. Okay, I will go more in-depth.
  • Lingo: Ticos won’t slow down their Spanish for you. This is good if you want to see how you are truly progressing in your speaking ability. The best part is that you will start to pick up slang.
  • Camouflage: You won’t stick out like a sore thumb. That said, ticos won’t gawk at you. You are less likely to be a victim of scams or petty theft.
  • Self-representation: If you do or say something stupid, it only reflects on yourself, not the American people.

Perhaps it is obvious that my preference is to camouflage myself as a tica. You may ask, “How do I camouflage myself as a tica, Emily?” That is for the next blog post!

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