From Enacting To Overcoming: The Three Stages Of Stereotyping
Before going to a new place and shaking hands with a new nation, you have some pre-held ideas. Whether you’ve read about them or you’ve heard them from the others, you already have an image about that new thing you’re going to encounter.
This is usually translated as creating stereotypes and, regarding our modern society, they became sort of a ‘I-already-know-how-you-are-and-I’m-not-gonna-change-my-opinion-about-you-too-soon’ form of thinking.
Looking back on my Erasmus experience, I can identify three phases I went through when it came to stereotyping the new people I meet – from meeting them, all the way up to getting rid of my preconceived ideas. So, without further ado, here are the three stages of stereotyping.
Phase 1: You looking for certain features in every person and assign characteristics based of these.
When I went overseas, I made three friends from the same country. Every time we hung out, we tended to ‘identify’ other students by pointing at some features either about their look, their manner of talking or their gestures.
Sayings like: ‘That guy is a German for sure, look at him he’s so tall and blonde, I’ve no doubt about it.’ Or, ‘that group is made of Spanish people, they are so cheerful and loud.’ And maybe even, ‘did you seen that gesture with his palm? She’s Italian for sure!’
Which was not a bad thing at all. Instead, it was a trend we used to make friends by trying to guess their nationality. At the Erasmus Corner, the place in Lisbon where we often frequented, we were always doing this game: guessing each other’s nationality by asking clues about someone’s country or trying, after a long scan, to guess where we each came from.
The not-so-good thing was when some of us knew already where our peers are coming from and judged them according to their nation’s history, politics, religious thinking and so on. One of my friends greeted another German friend in a ‘Hitler’ manner once. Reflecting on German history, he believed that all Germans are now making fun of the notorious leader, but instead he offended the gentleman really badly in return.
Phase 2: You realize that not all the people of one nation look, talk, think or act the same.
Geography, ethnicity, religion and color do not necessarily define the people you meet. It is wrong to welcome someone with a predefined idea about them regarding specific features like these; characteristics that people use to differentiate by today.
Phase 3: You get that ‘international’ mindset.
I believe that there is a great ‘stereotype’ that can be applied to all of the international students: the Erasmus mindset. This mindset marks all the peeps that had an experience abroad (no matter the length or the program) and is defined, in my opinion, by undeniable characteristics such as:
- lack of bigotry;
- urge to travel;
- widened horizons; and,
- all the good things that enrich your person.
This is one kind of a stereotype that once you get it, it stays in your DNA forever. After one life-shaping experience like this you begin to see the world with a different lens. People marked by this mindset put down the boundaries built up by prejudices and pre-held ideas.
Spending a few months in another country, within a community full of peers from every corner of the world, allows you to develop a sense of understanding about others and the reasons behind their way of being or acting. You become more tolerant, open minded and embrace different conceptions easier.
Through interacting with people that have different ways of thinking and different visions of the world, you realize there are many ways of ‘being right’ and that there is no universal truth. And once you have created a clearer image of each one, you begin to see the whole picture.