Ask a Volunteer
Q: What misconceptions do you hear about the culture of the United States from children in your country of service? What types of questions have they asked you about U.S. culture?
A: I've heard quite a few, but geography seems to be a common trend. Coming from a small, tropical island nation, it's easy for my students to lump "America" and the "world at large" into the same category. Hence, questions like "Does it snow everywhere in America?”, and "Is there anywhere in America where you can't see the ocean?” They will also ask questions regarding pop-culture, because they often assume that every American knows every other American. "Do you know Beyoncé? Rihanna?" Finally, other questions are more innocent: "Have you been to Brockton?" This is a Boston suburb with a large Cape Verdean community.
Alexander Fankuchen, English Education Peace Corps Volunteer, Cape Verde
A: As a Volunteer currently living in Lesotho I think the most common assumption from the students here is that all kids in the U.S.A. are rich. They believe that they all live in big houses and have fancy toys. I try to explain to both parents and children that we also have poor people in America. A number of Basotho people I've met seem to believe that Americans are all wealthy, and that if they could just get to the United States, they too could live a life of luxury. The funniest and most common question from students though, is if we know Beyoncé. Since many of the celebrities that they see on television come from the United States, they believe that we know (and are friends with) them. This makes me laugh every time!
Haley Waggoner, Elementary Education Peace Corps Volunteer, Lesotho
A: I am an Information and Communication Technology volunteer in Benin, West Africa, and I would say that the misconceptions I hear about America and Americans are pretty much the same among children and adults. The primary misconception is that all Americans are rich, that we live like the celebrities they see in music videos, movies and TV shows. When I tell them that there are also poor and homeless people in the United States, they are shocked. Some Beninese people I have met also seem to think all Americans are white and most likely blond, with blue eyes. I am an Asian-American, and they automatically assume I am Chinese or Japanese (I am Korean-American). When I tell them I am an American, they are surprised. To be fair, the Chinese have done a lot of development work in Benin, so the idea that I'm Chinese is understandable. However, even Caucasian and Hispanic Volunteers are mistakenly called Chinese.
Susan Ahn, Information and Communication Technology Peace Corps Volunteer, Benin
A: A misconception I have encountered while here, is about race. It was spurred by the fact that there are Peace Corps Volunteers here who identify as African-American or Asian. When I told my students about my friends of different races, they asked where they were from. When I said they were from the United States, the students still responded “but where are they from?” They didn't understand how many different races, and backgrounds could all come from one country. I guess it is quite a unique blend of cultures that make up America! Also, when studying St. Patrick's Day last year, one student asked how I could be Irish, if I'm from America. The student then followed up with: "Who do you cheer for in the World Cup?"
Ashley Dowd, Elementary Education Peace Corps Volunteer, Macedonia
A: Living in South Africa, I get a lot of questions with a racial undercurrent. I asked my eleven year old host sister last week why she wanted to go to America so badly. She said, “I hear that they don’t see color there.” Other children ask if there are any poor people in America, or if there is AIDS, or suffering. They ask if everyone is rich and say they hope that they are because they want to go to America to be one of the rich, AIDS-free, lucky ones who seem to be surrounded by an impenetrable bubble that protects them from ever feeling pain. The children of South Africa I’ve met see America as a place where everyone is equal, where people ‘don’t see color,’ and where it’s possible to break the cycle of poverty. I love their perception of my country; I hope one day it will live up to their expectations.
Alena Skeels, General Health Peace Corps Volunteer, South Africa