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
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.
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.
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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.
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