i really didn't expect to learn a lot about my own country whilst being abroad. but somehow, when you're at home, you don't really see your own country. i know that sounds weird, but it's like the way you don't really see yourself or what you look like unless you look in a mirror. when you're living abroad, though, all of a sudden, it's like someone's held up a mirror and you can see yourself - or you can look across the pond and you see your own country. it's the strangest thing. anyways, here're some things i learned about good ol' home sweet home:
1. you’re lucky to be an american
this is one of the biggest things i realized. when you're american, you pretty much just take it for granted. - the standard of living, the lifestyle, etc. etc. yea, from time to time, you might hear something about being proud to be an american, but you don't really know what that means - mainly because you have no clue what it's like living anywhere else. you think every other first world country is pretty much like america, and places like europe are romanticized, with their art and history, and of course, their glorious free healthcare. boy was living in england a wake-up call. universal healthcare is not the amazing thing that we make it out to be. yes, there is free healthcare, but the quality of it is not good at all - i literally had to do my own swabs (god knows if i did it right) and, on a separate occasion, tell the doctor what to prescribe for my eczema. i'm not lying. well, as i learned, even when it comes to healthcare, the laws of economics still apply - you get what you pay for.
2. america is the center of the world
this might sound really egotistical, but it's true. i couldn't believe how much american stuff was absolutely everywhere. from american movies, to tv shows, to songs, celebrities, products, etc. etc. it's like our culture has infiltrated every corner of the globe. and yea, in the states, you hear about how we're a "global superpower", but it all just dims into background noise. you don't really fully realize this until you're abroad and you see it firsthand. it's like everyone's always watching america's next move. the entire world was watching the 2008 election, with rowdy election parties in pubs, american flags everywhere, and everyone cheering for their preferred presidential candidate. the american election was all anyone was talking about that whole year. when in america do we ever talk about another nation's presidential elections - or even know who the candidates are???
3. america is extremely isolated
you never realize how isolated america is until you leave and join - the rest of the world. people abroad are always giving americans a lot of heat about not knowing anything about the rest of the world. i think a lot of it has to do with our geographic isolation. we're surrounded by the world's largest oceans, have no vacation time to travel, and even if we did have vacation time, it still takes us forever to fly within our own country, let alone to another country. compare this with england - a 3-4hr flight will take you into northern africa, or iceland, or another part of the european continent. also, a weird thing about america, which i still don't really understand - is that everything gets americanized before it touches american soil. even though our own culture is everywhere around the world, when we take imports, like harry potter or the office, it all has to be transformed to suit american audiences. i guess a lot of this has to do with marketing and what the Powers That Be think will sell. so no, the american harry potters that you buy in america are NOT the same as the original british harry potters, and of course, the office does not star steve carell here in the UK. however, it's definitely unfair to go on and on about how americans are "ignorant" of other parts of the world. - the only reason other countries are more knowledgeable about the states is because - we're the center of the world!!
4. america is extremely young
you don't quite realize how young america is until you leave.... and you realize that europe is populated with ancient greco-roman artifacts, a lot of which still lie buried in the ground. all around england, you see tons of archaeology sites that have unearthed ancient roman ruins. in the north of england, along the english-scottish border, there's hadrian's wall, this long wall that was built by the ancient roman emperor.. well..- hadrian, of course. and then, of course, there's something like stonehenge, which, you realize, is just one of many ancient stone circles that were erected around 2000-3000BC. unlike what i'd previously thought, prehistoric stone circles are prevalent all over england - just walking through a park in yorkshire, one day, we came across some. compare this to - america. when i went on a tour of virginia and washington dc, the west coasters i was with were astounded by archaeological findings dating back to colonial times - all the way back to 1600AD. in the states, anything from before 1900 is "ancient", so when they heard that my school - royal holloway, university of london - was built in the 1800s (relatively "new" by european standards), they were amazed.
- jamestown, virginia:
5. the american dream is unique to… america
this seems like a given, since it's the american dream. but somehow, you just don't realize how unique this concept is to the states until you actually live elsewhere. elsewhere, there's just not this go-getting "make it happen" can-do mentality - this attitude that, if you work hard enough, you can reach your goals and make your dreams a reality. in general, american culture is very organized, efficient, and hardworking. - definitely a "dream big" and "just do it" society.
maybe the american dream is inseparably linked to the american culture of optimism, which i never realized was unique to the states. i always thought thinking positive was just the thing to do, no matter where you were. i couldn't have been more wrong. here in england, it's pretty much the opposite. although now i'm used to it, initially british pessimism was really jarring and hard to get used to. here in england, instead of a can-do "make it happen" attitude, it's more of a can't-do "can't be bothered" philosophy. and here in england, people complain a lot!! - which was shocking to me at first, but now i find it to be pretty funny. in the states, when you ask someone how they are, the standard reply is always, "great!". in england, however, don't be surprised if they reply, "awful!" and proceed to complain about every possible facet of their lives (the first time i got this reply, i just sat there, blinking, not knowing how to respond).
7. america is giant
i never realized how insanely giant america is. the states is almost the size of the entire continent of europe - maybe even bigger, if you count alaska. in the states, we're used to driving great distances everywhere - not so, here in england. instead of getting behind the wheel the second you turn 16, it's common here in england for people to never ever learn how to drive. most of the time, here in england, you take the train if you're leaving the city - taking a plane within your own country is weird and unnecessary.
8. large portions and large everything
maybe because we have so much land, we can make everything large and super-sized and extra giant. i never noticed before how big everything in the states is. the houses are tremendous, the roads are wide, distances are massive, and of course, what we're most famous for - giant american food portions, which i have now learned to appreciate!! in the states, the idea is to get more for your money - so pretty much everywhere you go, you'll get giant food portions, then whatever you can't finish, you take home with you in doggy bags. so really, you get about a week's worth of food, all at once. but here in europe, you hardly ever feel full - and only a few places offer doggy bag options - at other places, they'll just look at you weird if you ask for a doggy bag. and don't be surprised if the service is unfriendly. but the more i get used to europe, the more overwhelmed i feel when i go back to the states. back home, supermarkets are starting to feel so giant to me, that simply walking from one end to the other leaves me feeling exhausted - like a marathon. and the fast-talking, friendly american service leaves me feeling dazed, to the point where a server stopped in the middle of his fast-talk to ask me, "are you okay?" - yes, just not used to all this efficiency and attention...
of course, this mantra is repeated over and over throughout american culture. but you never really realize what it means until you reach europe and meet people whose ancestors have been living on the same land for over 2000yrs. in the states, you're also used to most caucasians being a mixture of european descent: part irish, french, german etc. - so it was pretty jarring to meet caucasians who're pretty much just "irish" or just "french" or just "german". yea, these are all things you know on some level, but it just doesn't become real until you actually experience it. plus, during this past british election, there was very much an anti-immigration sentiment, with politicians promising to limit immigration and to stop people from coming in. i'm not big on politics, but it's definitely hard for me to imagine an american politican lobbying successfully on this ground - it'd be anti-american, since america is "a nation of immigrants", statue of liberty, ellis island, etc. etc. etc.
10. other parts of the world are not like america
somehow, you expect all first world countries to be pretty much the same as the states. but they're not. it's not until you leave that you realize how high the average american standard of living is, how powerful we are as a nation, and how much you take for granted. yea, these are all things that you hear about dimly in the background, but it's not something that actually sinks in until you leave.