As you may or may not know, I am originally German. I now live in Copenhagen, Denmark, where many myths and stereotypes exist about their Southern neighbors. Every once in a while, I get to be the center of a joke about German humor (“oh, you have one?”) or our sense of structure and love for rules (“Wait for Susan, the traffic light is turning red”).
While stereotypes often hold some partial truth, they may cause more harm than good to a relationship, especially when we don’t know the other person very well yet. How do we form our stereotypes and prejudice anyway? Maybe we use them time and again until they become subjective truths. Maybe the media confirms them with one-sided reports. Maybe we have too little interaction with that specific group to know better. Maybe we have heard stories and second hand reports that form our opinion.
Fact is: stereotypes are deeply rooted, become unconscious and influence our thinking and behavior without us realizing it. A bias against certain groups of people that we hold without being aware of it, can become tripping wire while living abroad. We need to work on our cultural competence and expand our understanding and capability to deal with “otherness”.
How does unconscious bias affect your life as an athlete abroad?
We all have different coping mechanisms when it comes to dealing with the unknown. But one thing is certain: We are often not giving others a fair chance based on the fact of what group they belong to. Whether those are players from a different team, ethnicity, athletes with disabilities, or a different nationality. What we know about these people is based on very little (if any) direct interaction, hear-say, media, and second hand information.
Truth is though, if you want to succeed as an athlete internationally, you need to start challenging your bias and learn how to increase your (cross-) cultural competence. It’s time to step out of your comfort bubble, and learn more and question your assumptions to really maximize the time you have as an athlete abroad.