During a recent family gathering this summer, a someone said to me in regards to my expat life (in a somewhat-joking manner), “I’m going to raise my daughter to be all-American.” Although I am used to hearing these types of comments, I didn’t hesitate for more than a few seconds before responding, “Just because I don’t live in the United States doesn’t mean I’m not American.”
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, aka my hometown
I have always been a proud American, but after college, the only goal I had was to leave the United States. Although almost everyone I love lives in the USA, I wasn’t happy with what life in the United States had to offer at the time. Because let’s face it, there are a ton of things that I absolutely despise about the United States. I am uncomfortable with the fact that some of our most powerful politicians are unable to separate Church and State. I am terrified of my country’s mentality in regards to guns. I have no personal interest in sports or cars, but unfortunately it can be extremely difficult to live without one in most parts of the country. As a traveler, it turns me off that only 38% of Americans own a passport, and that American culture bases the quality of life around money and things over experiences (although I do believe this is changing with millennials). I am equally appalled by the skyrocketing amount of student loans debt, the lack of paid parental leave and vacation time, and the fact that healthcare in this country is a privilege instead of a fundamental right. Finally, the presence of racism, sexism, and homophobia, though vastly improving, still lingers.
High School sports are a huge part of American culture
I’ve lived in France for over a year now, in addition to a two-month stint living and working in Japan. Besides that, I have traveled to over a dozen other countries and have gotten a taste for what many other countries are about. The Netherlands was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage. Scandinavia is expensive, but there is no place in the world that is better for women and gender equality. Japan is extremely safe and clean. France’s healthcare system is affordable and accessible. The work-life balance of Spain is phenomenal. Europe’s public transportation system is so economically-friendly.
However, despite all of that, I have found that the more I travel and the more globalized I become, the more American I feel. Overall, I believe that traveling and leaving the United States has made me a better American and better citizen of the world. I am more aware of myself, my privileges, and the influence of my own country of the rest of the world. Because let’s face it, there are many good things about the United States. All in all, the more I travel, the more I appreciate where I come from.
Because, what could be more American than dressing up as Harry Potter characters, posing for pictures with other randoms, and showing up to the movie theatre four hours early in anticipation for the latest film? (Yes, I know Harry Potter is British.)
Americans are optimistic, and to be frank it is such a welcomed change from the pessimism I often encounter in France. As much of a cliche it is, I embrace the idea the that anyone can be whoever they want to be with a little elbow grease, despite the harsh realities of racial and socioeconomic privilege, among other complications. Overall, I love the positivity in this country, and how we encourage people to make positive changes in their lives, whether that be changing careers, going back to school as a non-traditional student, or starting a new fitness plan. The educational supports for people with special needs are also overall very accommodating in the United States. Additionally, I love the sense of community among Americans. As a nation we people go out of the way to give a helping hand to others. The United States is also so, so diverse, with people from every different nationality, ethnicity, and religion living within the borders. There is also no official language. Furthermore, the United States is truly the land of convenience. Almost everything is available at any given place or time, and the customer service is phenomenal. Even though I am not a religious person, I like having religious freedom and expression more than I like living in a secular country. I love the cultural customs of high schools, barbecues, tailgating, and patriotism. I love putting Christmas lights on my house, watching fireworks on the Fourth of July, and eating turkey on Thanksgiving. I love having access to fast food at literally any hour of the day, and the fact that almost any ethnic cuisine-style restaurant can be found here. Finally, the United States offers a wide-range of landscapes and climates, as well as infinite travel opportunities.
Boston, a city drenched in American history
Overall, I have never hesitated to tell travelers or locals I am American (I am proud of it!) When teaching English, I am often encountered with questions regarding various stereotypes about my country (ie: “Are Americans fat, lazy, uneducated, crazy religious, ill-traveled?” “Do students sing in the high school hallways?” “Do high schools really have lockers like in the movies?”) When living or traveling abroad, I sometimes find myself subconsciously practicing my American habits and mentalities, because let’s face it, as “global” as I become, there are certain quirks and traits that will always stick with me simply because I am American. Examples of this can range from simple to extremely complicated, from piling all of my food onto one plate instead of eating it in courses, or going to the market in my pajamas or hooded sorority sweatshirt, taking my coffee to go, shaking someone’s hand or giving a close friend or family member a hug when meeting them, smiling at strangers in the street, being overly optimistic, having extreme workaholic habits, laughing a little too loudly, or having a passion for competitive marching bands and women’s gymnastics. When an American talks about how American culture “doesn’t exist,” I can’t help but to shake my head in regards to how wrong they are.
Celebrating Hmong culture and influence in the USA
When I witness cultural differences unravel before my eyes, it spreads a smile across my face. I am able to say to myself, “This is because our culture is more like this, whereas in this culture, it’s more like this.” I find these differences fascinating and intriguing, instead of weird or standoffish.
Overall, despite the many things I loathe about United States, there are still an equal amount of things I love. It’s still my home country, and even though I am away from it more than I am in it, I will always come back, and do not ever see myself giving up my citizenship. The United States, its people, and my nationality will always be apart of me.
The ultimate American statement: Cap & Gown (though perhaps we are missing the red solo cup)