How Travel Has Made Me a Better American

Here in the United States we have some weird attitudes towards travel. Along with our crazy work priorities, there seems to be this odd yet persistent notion that there’s something unpatriotic about traveling abroad. Not everyone believes this of course, but more than once I’ve run up against this idea of “if you love your country, why would you need to go anywhere else?”

This isn’t a very well thought out argument, and debating with these people is both perplexing and frustrating. I don’t hate America, it’s my birthplace, my home, and, although I’m not always proud of its actions, I love my country. Traveling abroad has only made this more clear to me: the truth is, I never thought so much about my country and what it means to me until I left it’s borders.

I honestly believe that if more Americans traveled abroad, our country would be in much better shape. Here are just some of the ways that travel has made me a better citizen:

Distance Brings Perspective

I grew up in the DC area, where politics aren’t just a cocktail party topic, they are a way of life. Still, I never thought so much about the United States and it’s place in the world as I have since I left the country. Just like time gives you perspective on your personal problems, being outside the thick of the 24 hour media cycle has allowed me to think more critically about the USA. It’s strengthened my opinions on foreign affairs issues, and even domestic ones. I honestly think that if we sent some of those nutty tea partiers out into the world for 6 months to a year, their ignorant and insular ideas would evaporate.

 

Boarded Up US Embassy in Belgrade

Comparison Studies

Unless you’re living in 1984, a good citizen is a critically thinking citizen. Traveling abroad has given me a chance to see how other countries do things and to make comparisons. For example, in England I became intimiatly acquainted with socialized medicine (by umm, having an emergency operation) and I can definitively say it is not so scary. In other countries I’ve witnessed the effects of war, extreme corruption and poverty and I can definitively say they ARE pretty scary.

Maybe the most influential experience though was living in China this Spring, a country with a government far far different from my own. It’s a place where corruption runs rampant, there are virtually no safety standards and anyone who objects to the government is thrown in jail or worse. The good of the state is put far above the needs of the people. Never have I been so grateful to live in a country where individualism, freedom and free speech are valued and protected.

Public Defender

Nothing gets me riled up faster than running into travelers who dismiss all Americans as brash, rude, imperialists. The irony of dismissing everyone in an entire country for being ignorant is just mind-boggling to me. This used to be a bigger problem when George Bush was president, but occasionally I’ll still run up against anti-americanism. It’s a huge pet peeve, and I am always quick to defend my country and it’s people, and to point out that you probably don’t have complete control over everything your country does either.

I’m an Ambassador

On the flip side of that, one of the most important things Americans can do abroad is be a good representative of our country: to show the world that real Americans don’t fit into the ugly american stereotype that’s so popular. This is why people who hide their nationality make me angry, it’s your patriotic duty to represent your country well, and it’s the only way to change people’s attitudes.

It’s true that Americans don’t travel abroad as much as Australians, Canadians and Europeans, so our presence can attract extra curiosity. In Asia I would often find myself struggling to answer questions like: Do we all carry guns? Why don’t we travel more? Is Sarah Palin for real? I don’t always have the best answers but I do my best.

The more Americans that travel abroad, the more things will change: both in terms of people’s attitudes towards Americans, and in having more informed, worldly citizens. What America needs now is more critical thinkers, more citizens of the world.

I am a proud American but I can not stand blind patriotism, the idea that you should support your country no matter what it does. There are a lot of things that upset me about the United States and it’s politics, I get frustrated sometimes and I rant and rave in front of my laptop until Mike tells me to calm down and go outside. At the same time, there are a lot of things I really love about my country: Americans are friendly- some of the most outgoing people on earth. We are a country based on innovation and initiative, a place of revolutionaries and self-starters. I’m proud to travel the world as a US citizen, and no matter how many places I go, I’ll never forget where I came from.

Do you think travel has made you a better citizen?

39 thoughts on “How Travel Has Made Me a Better American”

  1. ehhh, don´t know if my comment posted so here it is again.

    Ha, I am an American citizen and I would like to know the same thing….IS Sarah Palin for real?!! Like you though, I am proud to be an American, no matter the bad rap.

  2. Since meeting so many Australians in Croatia and then coming over here, I think we could learn a lot from them. While they travel a lot, they’re always proud of where they come from and always plan on coming back. I get embarrassed when Americans start chanting “USA USA” but if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard “Aussie Aussie Aussie,” I would be a rich gal. But for some reason, in our society, leaving means you’re dismissing something about the American way.

  3. You’re correct that a good citizen needs to be critical. Many people miss the point that democracy doesn’t mean NOT challenging the governmnet, I think it means the opposite. The government should be acting on the people’s behalf, not the other way around.

    But to be a better American? I didn’t realise there wasa minimum standard on how good of a citizen a person can be.

    1. I think you can always be a better citizen by being more informed and proactive. There are definitely bad citizens out there.

  4. I’m Canadian and we get a lot of American media on tv, newspapers, etc. If I were to only use the media to form my opinion about Americans it would be completely skewed, full of stereotypes and simple explanations for complicated issues. I think that’s how it is for a lot of countries – people form their opinions from the media and from things they’ve heard through the grapevine. This type of thinking only gives you a limited, and sometimes inaccurate view of a country and culture. Good for you for travelling as an American, and being willing to help dispel some stereotypes people have about your country.

    1. Yes, that is exactly why it’s so important for Americans to get out there and be the true face of our country.

  5. I absolutely think travel has made me a better citizen. I never realized how much I love it here, until I left and lived some place else for a while and am now back! Yes, we are totally ambassadors when we travel. Be proud, but not in your face about it. Never “hide” who you are as you are there to prove the American stereo-type wrong! One of my favorite things:-).

  6. Your pet peeve is mine as well, and I’ve come up upon a lot of anti-Americanism in my travels. But what bothers me even more? Self-loathing Americans! I always say, you and many of your family and friends must be American, are they so bad?

    You have a great attitude, wish more people felt this way.

  7. I just came back from 8 months in France where I was teaching English. Except, since I was assigned to teach little kids who barely knew any English to begin with, I found most of my lessons were more about history and culture than about language, and I spent the vast majority of my time answering questions. It’s amazing what kind of preconceived notions even an 8-year-old can have based on what they see on TV. I’m intrigued by the fact that people in Asia asked you about Americans and guns, too. The teachers I worked with were always asking me if the US is a really dangerous place. Between the Second Amendment and constant reruns of CSI, the French think we spend all our time dodging bullets. Well, at least when we’re not busy eating hamburgers and chilling with celebrities!

  8. Please note that, when used as a possessive adjective (like “our” or “his”), “its” does not take an apostrophe. In the second sentence of your second paragraph, you are referring to the actions of America [that is, the actions are in a sense possessed by America], so your sentence should be ” I’m not always proud of its actions” – no apostrophe. By its nature, an abbreviation indicates that letters are missing.

    1. Bahaha, the link to Kate’s name cracks me up. I noticed the apostrophe misusage as well, but I would also say that the least important part of being a good writer is mechanics. Steph can tell a story in a way that engages her readers. The talent shown in her writing interests me more than a few errant apostrophes. 🙂

      1. Thank you! Was a little surprised at the pedantic tone of the comment- but constructive criticism is good I guess!

  9. Travel has definitely made me a better American and a better person. I have always been patriotic due to being in a family with military members but travel makes me appreciate my patriotism even more.

    I also feel that by traveling I am able to come home and relay my experiences with family and friends to help them to understand other countries and cultures. America is a melting pot and I feel we need to respect people different from us.
    As an author I try to express these thoughts and experiences in my books.

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