Last week I read this great blog post from Kim at So Many Places, about her feelings after coming back to America after traveling the world. She makes a ton of valid points about how frustrating it is to come home to a country obsessed with money and things, with rules and “safety” over experiences.
Everything she says is absolutely true, but I still felt this vague sense of disagreement as I read. I finally traced it back to one of the first lines of her post:
“In fact, my love affair with America has been on a sharp decline since I started traveling around the world two years ago.”
Oh. That’s Kim’s experience and it’s perfectly valid, but for me personally, the opposite has been true. The more I travel, the more I love and appreciate my home country.
When I started traveling, just after college, my primary goal was to be anywhere but the US. As a native Washingtonian with very liberal parents I grew up politically aware and well versed in many of the issues this country struggles with. I wasn’t happy with my country, and I was ready to see what else the world had to offer.
Well, I’ve been traveling off and on for the last 8 years, and I’ve found the world has a LOT to offer. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel through both very poor and very rich countries. I’ve lived in England, China, Argentina and Mexico- very, very different countries. In the process, I’ve learned a lot about America, and myself as an American.
Being an American who travels can be incredibly frustrating. You have to be an ambassador for your country and you have to constantly defy the stereotype of the ugly American. You have to answer questions about America’s policies on gun control, abortion, evolution etc, and usually the only answer you can give is “I don’t know, it’s messed up.”
I would be lying if I said it didn’t make me feel a little defensive about the US. I mean yeah, we suck at a lot of stuff! Yes, there are a lot of really dumb, incredibly vocal people here. But, there is a lot of awesome here too.
Here are just a few things I didn’t know I loved about the US before I started traveling:
- America is incredibly multicultural. I adore the fact that I can eat authentic Mexican, Vietnamese, Ethiopian and Italian all in the same week.
- People are friendly here. They smile at strangers, and start conversations on the subway. I love the fact that I can basically start talking to anyone sitting next to me at a bar and it won’t be weird.
- American’s are optimistic. There is a strong belief in the US that you can grow up to do anything you want to do. Although the truth is more complicated, I love that we believe that.
- Shopping- Capitalism at it’s ugly finest means that you can get a hold of anything and everything, usually for pretty cheap. Our supermarkets are sprawling, our electronics are affordable and our fashion is disposable (okay maybe that’s not great). There is a reason people from other country’s come to America to shop.
- Ingenuity- So many interesting new businesses from tech start ups to food trucks. My favorite is America’s thriving craft beer scene.
- We are constantly evolving. There are a lot of people pushing for terrible things, but an equal number pushing back, pushing for change and progress. Look at the push for marriage equality. It takes us awhile, but we’re getting there. That’s not just my optimism speaking.
- We cook the best hamburger’s in the world. Juicy red-centered ones, e-coli be damned.
I love America as a traveler as well. It’s one of the most geographically, culturally and gastronomically diverse countries in the world. I truly believe I could spend the rest of my life just exploring the US and never run out of beautiful, interesting or weird things to see. I would never limit myself like that, but it’s nice to know that all this is waiting in my own backyard.
So do those wonderful things excuse America’s faults? Probably not, but they do complicate my view of this great and messy country.
There are a lot of things about America I do NOT love. Politics would be a big one. I obsess over each election cycle, bemoaning a system which convinces people to vote against their best interests. I am truly terrified by this country’s attitudes over gun control. I am, as always, frustrated by sexism, racism, classicism on and on and on. These things frustrate me, they make me worry about the future, and question whether we should make our homes abroad permanently.
Truthfully though, I’ll always come back to my home country. I love it, in spite of it’s many flaws, too much to stay away. My family is here, my roots are here and deep down- I feel like an America (hopefully not the ugly kind). As Christine mentions in this lovely post, there are both great and ugly people everywhere in the world. The US isn’t a collection of stereotypes, it’s a collection of very, very different people.
So, I guess our relationship, like all long-term relationships is complicated.
I just know that I’ll always come home.