A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series — Guns On Every Street Corner, Stereotyping and Global Mutual Understanding – The North Star Reports – by Laura Blasena. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series — Guns On Every Street Corner, Stereotyping and Global Mutual Understanding – The North Star Reports – by Laura Blasena. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

Laura1

As the resident “United States-ian” at my university, I`ve been asked my fair share of questions about the United States. While the students are often too scared to ask me any questions at the beginning of class, discussion will often devolve into random questions about Kanye, Trump, Obama, and other social or political figures dominating United States news by the end of class.

While the questions caught me off guard at first, I`ve developed something close to a rehearsed answer for the majority of the questions—in particular, questions about Donald Trump and how he is perceived as a political candidate in the United States.

However, in one of my recent classes, I was asked a question that caught me off guard—and the question was asked by the teacher no less.

For a visit to one of the most advanced level classes, I had prepared an activity for students to read, discuss, and formulate their own questions about the shooting of the two Virginia journalists that took place at the end of August. After reviewing confusing vocabulary (Ex. “a news anchor is not on a boat”) I let the students form pairs to work on reading the article together.

Laura2

Then the teacher asked me the question that caught me off guard:
“You`re from the United States, so you`ve seen this stuff before. I want to know your opinion. What is it like when they sell guns on every street corner?”

I`ve never owned a gun or shot a gun, so unfortunately my knowledge of gun licensing and what is required to own a gun is severely lacking, but I was able to assure him that they do not sell guns on every street corner in the United States. Unless all of the gun vendors hide when I walk by, I`m pretty sure that you cannot buy a gun on every street corner. Although, to be honest, I`ve never tried.

After thinking about our small exchange, it occurred to me: all of the political discussion about gun laws in the United States had manifested in the outside world as a stereotype about the United States. Many people that I have met (that particular teacher and many students in that class included) told me that they believed guns were either incredibly easy to obtain in the United States or that every American owned a gun.

The situation was, to me at least, incredibly ironic.

Before coming to Colombia, relatives and friends all warned me that Colombia was incredibly dangerous. I was going to get kidnapped. I was going to get robbed. Someone else told us (in a fancier way) that we were all going to get stabbed if we took public transport anywhere in the city. Despite the years that have passed since the extreme danger and drug crimes have been cleaned out of the country, the stereotype still persists that Colombia is an incredibly dangerous place.

One of the other common questions that I get from students is: “What did your family think about you coming to Colombia?”. When I share the commonly held beliefs that many people have about Colombia, the students often laugh. Of course, Bogota is a city and, like every other city, there is crime, but walking through a park in broad daylight, taking the Transmilenio bus system, or walking to my university every morning is not going to get me killed.

For many of the Colombian students, it was easy to imagine that the United States is a gun-obsessed society where you can buy guns whenever and wherever you want.

For some of my family and friends in the United States, it was easy to imagine that a foreigner in Colombia was sure to get robbed, stabbed, and kidnapped.

Both of these stereotypes are, of course, exaggerated and false. While they`re born from small fragments of truth that are broadcasted in international news, they are not anywhere near close to the truth about either country. However, learning about the truth is always going to be difficult if the small fragments being broadcasted are always negative.

How are my Colombian students going to know what the United States is like if all they read about online are memes about Kanye running for president and reports on journalists being shot?

About our special correspondent Laura Blasena: Ever since I was a little Kindergartner I’ve always wanted to be a teacher.

I graduated from St. Scholastica in the summer of 2015 with a double major in Elementary Education and Spanish Education after student teaching as a 5th grade teacher and also as a Spanish teacher at NorthStar in Duluth, Minnesota.

While my future plans before graduation were initially to become a classroom teacher, I decided to wait a year to begin teaching in the United States and have chosen to work as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Bogota, Colombia. In Colombia, I will be working with a university as an assistant in the language department, attending classes, running conversation clubs, and offering the perspective of a native speaker.

I’ve always loved to travel. In college, I participated in several study abroad trips, visiting England, Guatemala, and Mexico. (I loved visiting Mexico so much that I even went back a second time!). I’m looking forward to the travel opportunities that I will have while working and living in Colombia.


Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports

The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, The College of St. Scholastica and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal’s online learning community and outreach program with undergraduate and K-12 classes around the world. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

The North Star Reports publishes edited essays from our students, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Students have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, Colombia, Norway, northeastern China, Nicaragua, Micronesia, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, El Salvador, England, Finland, Russia, Cyprus, and Haiti. We also publish student reviews of books, documentaries, and films, and analysis of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches, and report on their interactions with the North Star Reports students and teachers. We thank The Department of History and Politics and the School of Arts and Letters of The College of St. Scholastica for their generous financial support for The North Star Reports and The Middle Ground Journal.

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica.

Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu

23 Comments

Filed under Laura Blasena, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

23 responses to “A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series — Guns On Every Street Corner, Stereotyping and Global Mutual Understanding – The North Star Reports – by Laura Blasena. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

  1. Pingback: A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series — Guns On Every Street Corner, Stereotyping and Global Mutual Understanding – The North Star Reports – by Laura Blasena. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Jou

  2. Delaney Babich

    The perspectives you discuss here are fantastic. You did a great job of showing how far and wide stereotypes are spread, and how it might be almost impossible to get away from them. I am a little upset though, due to that fact that other countries may look at us as being that violent or that guns are everywhere because as a citizen we know they are not. This opened my eyes a bit on how the world sees us, thank you!

  3. James Fuerniss

    That’s a really interesting topic. It’s really difficult to think of issues like that from a perspective different from our own. I agree that the selling of guns is hidden while I walk the streets of Duluth. It’s pretty amazing the way our minds work off of an idea even though we really have no idea about the truth of the matter.

  4. Matt Breeze

    I think you make an excellent point that guns are not sold on every street corner here in the US. That idea is a fairly common misconception. That being said I am sure you could find more stores here that sell guns openly and proudly than in Colombia. The point on other areas of the world being more violent than our own home is also a good point, and appears common across cultures and areas of the globe. Everyone has a general tendency to think of other people as different, and maybe more violent, when in reality they are much more similar than one might first assume.

  5. Sarah Grace Devine

    It’s so easy to forget about the stereotypes that America has, I laughed when I read “guns on every street corner”. It’s awesome that you take the time to thoughtfully answer the questions that your students/teachers have about America. Have found any stereotypes, of Colombians or Americans, to be true?

  6. Roman Schnobrich

    Hearing and analyzing these stereotypes must make you a lot more critical of American media and the news it chooses to report. Is it ever hard to not become mad at a person when they ask about a ridiculous stereotype and assume it’s true? I suppose it depends on your mood. Also, it totally depends where you’re from– if your hometown is an unsafe neighborhood of New York City, you might say yeah, the United States is a very dangerous and scary place. It’s all about perspective!

  7. Carley Nadeau

    I really enjoyed this article. It is wonderful to get insight on how the rest of the world sees the United States, especially on issues like gun control. You did a great job with discussing the stereotypes and perspectives that they had of the America. This opened my eyes alittle. Great job!

  8. Meghan Lozinski

    I think a part of the gun issue is that compared to so many other countries, we have a huge number of shootings happening and making the news. Different people may give different explanations for why exactly we’ve had more mass shootings this year than days by saying there isn’t enough access to mental health care, others says there are too many guns, and the saddest to me is that some people claim it is inevitable. For so many other countries looking in at us the lax gun laws (compared to many countries) are so foreign and is therefore a defining element to stereotype. Stereotypes are rarely made because two groups of people perceive have something in common.

  9. Connor

    Your experiences go to show how powerful stereotypes can be. I had a similar experience when working with ten Russian students this summer. I asked what they think of when they think of Americans. Their responses included Texas, guns, big trucks, and food. These experiences serve as important reminders that we’re global citizens too, and it’s our job to break stereotypes.

  10. Thomas Landgren

    It’s truly amazing how stereotypes can travel across borders so quickly. I don’t blame them for being fascinated with Kanye “running” for president. When an entertainer says they are going to run for a political office it always is blown up through the media. To speak my truth there are people selling guns on the streets it’s just not so obvious. I expect university students to ask questions like that, but it surprised me that the professor asked a question like that. This situation just goes to show that media really does control what people think about other countries and how different they are. Great Article, love the series!

  11. Bryce Gadke

    It is quite interesting to see how the stereotypes we have can travel so far so quickly. This brings about the question of why does the american media report what they do? Obviously they report interesting and pleasing things to the ear if it has the ability to spread this quickly. It is intriguing that this alludes to the control that the media has over what people think in various countries. The similarities and differences of what the news is and how the people react to it.

  12. Emily Hanson

    I find it very interesting how stereotypes can really affect the prospective we have on different countries. I really liked how you brought up the idea of the American image such as memes or big news articles. I’m a large believer in that everyone should spend some time abroad before they can make accusations about another nation. Media can such a large contribution to our prospectives that it’s very necessary to establish our own opinions.

  13. Cassidy Jayne

    Thank you for the insight! Stereotypes, entirely unavoidable but completely correctable, can have egregious effects. And unfortunately, the media plays a significant role in the perpetuation and creation of those stereotypes. What an interesting perspective to experience.

  14. It must have felt odd at first to be placed in that situation. I have heard stories from my international friends about American students and professors asking them questions that involved stereotyping. I try to place myself in their shoes, which can be hard to do. What is broadcasted in the media translates differently and allows stereotyping to take place. However, I think most people (especially Americans) usually don’t think about how other countries may view or stereotype their own country. American social media probably doesn’t help much in these situations either especially in the way our political atmosphere is portrayed by our own people (sometimes our humor may not translate, sometimes we may make fools of ourselves, sometimes we are embarrassed of our own county’s political climate, etc.). Your students are lucky to have a teacher like you! They can become better educated on what America is like from experiences like this. It is also wonderful that you take every opportunity you can to learn from your students as well. I always thoroughly enjoy reading your articles!

  15. Tabetha Filzen

    Are you planning on trying to teach them anything more about America? Maybe so they can better understand the country. I remember in my language classes, we would try to learn something about at least one of the countries that speak language being learned, once a week if not more. It is sad to think about what other people of other countries think about us. But, we do the same to all of them as well. No one can really be mad about stereotyping.

  16. Jimmy Lovrien

    Your examination of the stereotypes each country holds for the other is fascinating. It’s easy to point out the absurdity of stereotypes other countries might have for us, but it’s more difficult to admit our own. The fact that the school kids had the same reaction we have when we hear stereotypes about the U.S. — that is to laugh the stereotypes about their country — is quite telling. The ideas we have about other countries are so far removed from reality. What makes it so easy to gravitate towards the unusual and violent stereotypes?

  17. Deng Dimayuga

    I think you did a wonderful job sharing your thoughts about two different stereotypes in this article. It’s always interesting to see how the US is perceived depending on what media, news, or ideas are being exported accross the borders. Thank you very much for sharing!

  18. Rebecca Smith

    It’s interesting seeing stereotypes of the U.S., or how the media portrays the U.S. in different parts of the world, and also how the students react to the stereotypes that the people in the U.S. have of Columbia! It did surprise me that the teacher you worked with asked you the question about the guns, however. I’m interesting to hear more about what the students think of the U.S.!

  19. Kimberly Acosta

    I hate the word stereotype. It makes me feel like I must be just like my stereotype when in reality, I’m not. It’s also interesting that people coming from different countries have stereotypes. Usually, when I think of stereotypes, I think of someone’s race and identity. It’s weird to think that the teacher assumed that Laura knew what it was like to see people selling guns. Lately, there has been a lot of shooting in the Minneapolis area and it’s strange to know that it’s been happening a lot ever since I moved up here. In fact, there was a shooting right by my high school which is located on Lake Street. Lake Street is known to be kind of dangerous, but as the years went by, it has become a diverse and safer area.

  20. Jenna Algoo

    Those are very interesting questions that come your way. I never think of the United States as owning these stereotypes but when push comes to shove the rest of the world will see only what we put into the media. That truly says a lot about the stories covered in the media, in my opinion. I do find it interesting the difference in stereotype in regard to what people say about Colombia and then what the Colombian children have to say about the United States.

  21. Kyle Hellmann

    I get most of my information about other countries through the internet, which makes me at mercy of those stereotypes that you talk about. I mouth would have been open for a few minutes after hearing the gun question. I’m shocked by that question, but it makes me question my own perception of other countries. Thanks for sharing, it was a really good read!

  22. It is amazing what the power the media can have on a society. With stories in the news recently in the States usually talking about guns and the president saying we need more gun control. I can kind of get a sense, why foreigners may think that the United States are riddled with guns. Makes me question my own perception of other countries. Thanks for the great read!

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