What is a Stereotype, and What Should International Students Know About Them?

Stereotypes exist no matter where you go in the world. A stereotype is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as a “fixed, generalized image of a person or thing shared by many people.” In other words, they are preconceived notions one has about another person or thing. They are usually formed due to ignorance. Where do they come from? What do we do about them?

Many times stereotypes are formed during our childhood upbringing. Our parents, or caregivers, have an opinion about something and the children see and hear this. Hence, they are taught to think or feel a certain way. For instance, one’s parents are reading the paper about a major recall by Ford Motor Company. Suddenly they say “Oh, that Ford. They’ve never made nothing but crap.” The parent has never owned a Ford to have firsthand experience. That is a stereotype.

Many times stereotypes are formed from peers. People usually hang out with like-minded people. If one of the friends thinks a certain way, and has a way with words, he or she can easily convince another of their viewpoint. This happens especially when one is exposed to something they know little, or nothing, about. An example of this is someone saying, “All fat people are just lazy and stupid.” They know of one person who is like that, and judge all obese as the same. That is a stereotype.

A person’s own life experiences can form a stereotype. If one is exposed to something that leaves a negative impression, a stereotype may form. For instance, perhaps you have firsthand experience with something you knew nothing about, like a mountain bike. You take the mountain bike on a trail and don’t make it uphill. The gears don’t shift and it’s too hard to pedal. Suddenly, that mountain bike is a piece of junk. In fact, all mountain bikes are junk. You’ll never buy another one. That’s a stereotype.

There are stereotypes against specific races. This is unfortunate, and I do not like to talk about it, but it exists in our world. You will meet people who condemn those who are not Caucasian. Hence, someone with a stereotype can see a certain race and judge them accordingly. In fact, as an international student, you will come across this. Someone you do not know will make derogatory comments about you simply because your skin color is different then theirs. Be aware of this. Just ignore this activity if it happens to you. That is the best way to get rid of unwanted behavior. You are the better for it.

Everyone at some time has a stereotype about either people or things. The degrees, from mild to extreme, vary according to the person involved. At least by reading this article you will have a better understanding about the world of stereotypes. Examine your own psyche. What are your stereotypes? Can you overcome them through exposure? I think you can. Good luck!

NOTE: The purpose of this article is to inform you about stereotypes, not pose the negative to you. We live in a complex world. The majority of people are good and are here to help each other.

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