Monday, January 12, 2009

National Identity Matters Most When You Are Abroad

One of my main reasons for choosing "Australian National Identity" as the subject of our course here comes from Centre College's extensive experience with study abroad: when they study out of the country, our students discover that they are Americans. (Except the international students, of course, who already had a parallel experience by coming to Centre). Americans probably do proclaim their Americanness to one another more than the citizens of most nations do. Still, there are dozens of distinctive expectations that we have at home without knowing it. These American expectations and assumptions come out by contrast in another society.

Today we had a stellar day with a group of sociologists at LaTrobe University here in Melbourne. Kerreen Reiger had organized a day with her colleagues, most notably Peter Beilharz, Karl Smith, and Sue Turnbull. They helped us reflect on Australianness. They also confirmed that their students think even less about their national identity at home than Americans do -- but discover that they are Australians when they are abroad. Several of the professors, likewise, reported that they only had reason to describe themselves as Australian when abroad.

I don't think this fact means that national identity does not matter at home. I think it just means that national identity is most salient when compared to other national identities.


Katie said...

Living in Canada, our "American-ness" doesn't matter much to us. Canada is so similar that there's simple no need to gravitate toward other Americans and revel in our shared culture.

Our Canadian neighbors and friends love to constantly point out that we're different, though. In fact, they introduce us saying, "This is Katie and Ryan--they're Americans." Parents of Anna's baby friends refer to her as their child's "American friend." I've always wondered if they don't want us to slip in and be accidentally accepted as Canadians or if they just think it funny that we're living here.

Gruntled said...

I think being not-American matters more to Canadians than to anyone else. If they introduce you as Americans, it is the circumstance in which they can assert their difference while being in the comfortable majority.