There are two main questions students ask each other just after being introduced: “Woher kommst du?” (Where are you from?) and “Was studierst du?” (What do you study?). My answer to the second question––American studies––often gets a chuckle.
“So you came all the way to Germany just to study America?” they ask. I explain to them that I wanted to study abroad in a place where I could learn another language, but such options are limited for English majors for obvious reasons. More than that, I think that, even in the short time I’ve been here, my understanding of my own country and its place in global society has been sharpened.
My American studies courses here have given me the opportunity to observe America from an outsider’s perspective and really get an understanding of what Europeans actually think of us.
What I’ve concluded from my time here so far is that most of the people in Europe consider Americans good-hearted, but completely insane people.
For example, in my American current events course last week, we talked about gun control, stand your ground laws and the George Zimmerman trial. I felt very enlightened after listening to the German students in the course discuss American gun culture. They knew about the Second Amendment’s roots in the Revolutionary War and Americans’ ingrained distrust of the government.
They also understood the role the National Rifle Association plays in the formation of gun legislation. They understood everything about American gun culture, but still could not wrap their heads around why, even in the face of numerous episodes of gun violence, Americans still cling so tightly to their guns.
I told them all to go to the range and try shooting a gun for themselves to understand. Maybe they have a point about us Americans being crazy.