When Temple sends their students abroad for study programs, it is inevitable that they will be exposed to different cultures and faced with increasingly muddled opinions of the United States. Much of the world holds two distinct opinions; one for American political life and another for American culture.
This summer, I studied at the University of Ghana in West Africa and spoke to numerous Africans who considered the U.S. to be overtly racist in public policy. Hajmalick Ndiaye, a Nigerian studying at the University of Ghana, put it most bluntly when he said, “Bush, Clinton and the rest [of American politicians] don’t care about us blacks and browns.”
Despite the hatred that many West Africans feel for American politicians, many still hold a common admiration, if not envy, for American culture. Just moments after Ndiaye’s outwardly hate-filled comments towards American power, I gave him an Adidas sweatband that didn’t leave his arm for the next week.
Salam Al-hassan, an architect working in Ghana’s capital of Accra, further described the division in African sentiment towards Americans by describing a deep Ghanaian culture that is ignored by even some Ghanaians. Many Africans are captivated with American culture, wanting to be more like Michael Jordan than Abedi Pele, Ghana’s most famous soccer player.
There is a population of insular Americans who, Al-hassan said, “are as ignorant as the U.S. government,” but he, too, recognizes that with the African opinion of derision for American politics comes one of fascination for many Americans and their culture.
That type of mentality doesn’t seem to be isolated in the cradle of humanity. Christine Spadola, a research associate for the University of Delaware, recently traveled to Argentina and found a similar dichotomy in the local tenets about Americans. Spadola came across an Argentine who described the common opinion toward Americans by saying, “We envy you, we fear you and we hate you – in that order.”
Those particularly powerful words seem to characterize feelings towards Americans throughout the world. Where the U.S. government represents oppression and greed, the culture and citizenry are far more interesting. Many seem to recognize that the particularly polarized American political world brings forth, as Spadola put it, “Americans who travel and Americans who don’t.” That is, many understand that there is a population of Americans that don’t support the policy of America.
That love and hate for the U.S. continues even in Europe. David Buckley, Ph.D., a native of Ireland and former history professor at the University of Scranton, describes common European perspectives of the U.S. with the same division between Americans and their politicians.
Buckley acknowledges that there is not much envy about American culture among Europeans, but Americans are still appreciated more than their government. Buckley said, “Most Europeans love that, with the right gusto, Americans can do whatever they want to do.” As with the rest of the world, Europeans seem to hold two separate opinions, a loathsome one for the American government and a somewhat gentler view of its citizens. Though many Europeans may hold some opposition toward American individuals, the transgressions of the too-loud and too-arrogant American citizen seems to be far more forgivable than those of the too-loud and too-arrogant American government.
Simply put, the same qualities that make many hate the American government – free and independent, if not completely self-absorbed – are what makes many more likely to appreciate American citizens.
America’s political missteps are well known and have developed hard-to-break anti-American sentiment around the world. Opinions about Americans and their culture are more muddled and can be improved with more ease. There is no better way to begin than with a new generation of more knowledgeable and culturally aware student ambassadors to the rest of the world. We can only hope that the more than 800 students the university sponsors abroad annually are doing just that.
Christopher George Wink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.