Overseas Education: Dispelling Official Myths in Latin America
One of the most important contributions that the study abroad program makes is to allow students and professors to contrast official (government and mass media) versions of reality with their own observations and experiences. In many cases, there is a significant gap between what students were told before they left the U.S. and what they have learned upon their return. Not all students are able or willing to go beyond their preconceived notions, in part because of the limited access to different classes, ethnic and gender groups, or because the nature of the program limits the range of experiences to which students are exposed. Nevertheless, in my nearly forty years of travel to Latin America, I have found that most students do develop significantly different and critical views of the “official” versions of Latin America and U.S. foreign policy. The initial reactions to the contrast between preconceptions and reality vary from surprise to indignation, with many pursuing alternative and more critical paradigms. To illustrate this issue, I would like to cite several cases that I have witnessed in the field.