Faithful Representations of a Semi-Simple Group
The operating principle of theoretical physics in the past half century has been symmetry. The language of this operating principle is group theory. An abstract mathematical group acts linearly on a set of particles as a ‘representation’ of that group. Faithful representations preserve the subtleties of the abstract group. (Semi-simple groups are reducible, i.e. they are direct sums of simple groups.)
Americans have a reputation (perhaps muliple) around the rest of the world.
As an American student abroad, one cannot help but be cognizant of this. However, what’s slightly more subtle is the cognizance that one is representation of this reputation. Is one a faithful representation (see definition above), an anomaly defying expectations, or even a paragon to challenge stereotypes? What colors the way one approaches expatriate life? What causes us to behave differently, even if that only means remaining militantly the same?
My observations of extremal behavior of American expatriate students. (Artistic license has been taken, any similarity to actual people is coincidental.)
- American-in-a-bubble. Travels 3500 miles over the Atlantic ocean to live the same life that they did in the states. Surrounded by American university friends and aided by American television (conspirator: YouTube), refuses to acknowledge undeniable signs that Toto, this isn’t Kansas anymore. Refuses to look right when crossing the street. Don’t put him/her behind the wheel of a car, it’ll only get ugly. Speaking of which…
- Ugly, but well meaning, American. Sometimes American’s aren’t as evil as they seem. They’re just naive. Somewhat difficult to distinguish from the American-in-a-bubble, this specimen attempts to ‘fix’ all of the ‘strange’ things about the U.K. Whether it’s keeping stores open past 5 p.m., slathering chips in ketchup, or insisting that the department Christmas party should be the departmental ‘holiday’ party, the nuances of cultural differences are a bit lost. People like this don’t realize it’s not a compliment when people repeatedly ask if they’re American?
- Intelligent American. A moment’s thought will suggest that the sample of Americans studying abroad would be slightly higher achieving than the rest of the bunch, though the laws of statistics do apply and there’s some variance. At any rate, once in a while there is an American student who doesn’t need someone to explain to them that Ireland is a different country (yes, a different country) than the U.K. These Americans usually don’t realize that it is a compliment when people repeatedly ask if they’re Canadian.
- The Subtle American. An oxymoron? There are those whose instinct is to fit in with the natives. Can you blame them? It’s embarassing when people ask if you’re American. These Americans have taken to the sport of picking up English accents, if not English companions. There’s more, however, to being English than to-mah-toes, a faux-hawk, and eating wheatabix. There’s an entire culture of discreet subtlety regarding the weather, class, and privacy that real Britons can spot long before one utters off a rehearsed crisp ‘t’ or dropped ‘r.’ Yes, there are a few American anglophiles who truly become adopted citizens of Britain. But these are indeed few and far between. Perhaps Bill Bryson was one of the last ones.
Filed under: Expatriate Life, Student Life | 4 Comments