Just as any foreigner would have had, I also had my expectations and prejudices about Americans, American culture and society before I arrived to Washington D.C. Some of them were positive, some negative, yet most, unfounded. GWU’s 6 day-long orientation reestablished my perception and understanding of American culture and society, adjusting my prejudices to the reality. Looking back on my first week in D.C., I can undoubtedly say that my first impression of D.C. couldn’t be better. It broke most of all my negative prejudices and strengthened my positive expectations.
The strongest positive prejudice that I had was that Americans are usually very open-minded and generous. I had already received help from a generous lady who got me out of trouble when at airport, I was struggling to use a luggage cart but did not have any change to pay for its usage. She actually paid for my $5 cart when there was no way that I could pay her back. During the orientation week, the willingness and kindness, friendliness of the leaders surprised me. They surprised me again when I heard that they had just volunteered for the leader position, without getting paid for all the hard work. From the procedural, tiring things such as checking in, getting the GWorld card, opening a bank account, settling in the room to interesting, fun things such as going on a D.C. tour, Welcome BBQ, Movie Night and DC City Drop Off’s, the leaders never seemed to get tired or bored. Even with the weather being so freezing cold, snowy and windy, making every step of our orientation activities hard, their face were full of smile, always trying to tell us more about DC culture and needy information. Through them, I could really feel the generosity of these people who are so accustomed to giving and sharing their time, knowledge and happiness with others.
Yet still of course, I had some negative prejudices. That Americans are two-faced was the biggest among all. By two-faced and dualistic meaning that Americans act so willing to be engaging in your life, all nice and kind while actually in real mind they are not interested, not caring a bit about you. For instance on first meeting they would just say ‘you can call or ask me help whenever you need me’ yet those words could actually turn out to be passing-by remarks. I felt this might be true whenever I went to CVS or other shopping malls encountering and getting into conversation with the cashiers, or when I was greeted by from strangers I met on the street. Americans seemed to be used to this one-shot, superficial relationship to which I was so unaccustomed to. I saw this with criticism, thinking that Americans were so used to faking things, yet slowly I began to think, this is just the way they are. Still, it’s better to be greeted with a smiling face, than just passing by without even looking at each other. The relationship is superficial anyway, and everyone knows about the superficiality of such greetings and attitudes. If we regard this just as sort of a social custom of Americans, there’s frankly nothing to be so cynical about.
So basically, a week in DC told me that DC is a wonderful place. Obviously the things I have learned and felt about this city during my first week of orientation would be just a drop in a bucket of what I would feel or know about throughout the rest of my semester in GWU. I hope my positive first impression just gets to be better as the days pass.