By Adrienne Cytto, Staff Writer

CAPTION./PHOTO VIA Flickr user Michael Saechang

You might be surprised to hear that Australians frequently ask American students about their thoughts on the issue of gun control./PHOTO VIA Flickr user Michael Saechang

Before I came to Australia, people told me to brush up on my politics and news because Australians are very interested in U.S. policy and at times may even know more than I would. I wouldn’t say this has been the case, but what has been most surprising is the topic I have been questioned about the most: gun control.

I have had people of all ages, including my 9-year-old students, ask me if I have owned a gun. I never would have thought this would be such a hot topic to focus on from an outsider’s or international perspective. I’ve had to explain that no, I don’t own one, nor have I ever gone to a shooting range. Conversations then lead to talking about areas of high crime, and shootings we hear about in the news such as in elementary schools, colleges, or movie theaters. While gun control is debated all the time, I think I’ve had more conversations about it in Australia than back at home.

No matter where you study abroad, people are going to want to know about the beliefs, experiences, and perceptions of your own country. While most of the time it’s the hot button issues that come up, those clue you in on what people think of the U.S. internationally.

It also helps to do some research on the country you’re traveling to, so you can be knowledgeable of important events going on there and have an idea of what the people are like. I have definitely come in contact with people who think Americans are rude or think of us as “those loud Americans,” but not everyone thinks that.

Anywhere you go, there’s a chance you will run into people who are not afraid to vocalize these negative opinions, but being aware that they exist before you study abroad can help you change people’s ideas about what they believe living in the U.S. is like and how Americans act. It might be helpful to go online and read local news sources from the country you are going to be living in, and look at what stories talk about the U.S.

There is no doubt these debates are going to come up, but in the end having an idea of what you could say in response to topics like gun control or other U.S. policies can lead to some pretty interesting and informative conversations when you least expect them.