- Were you born and raised in America?
- Do you think America is the greatest country in the world?
If you immediately answered yes to both of these questions,
Then first, simmer down.
Second, this is for you.
America is great. We can all rally behind our freedom, deep fried food, and American flag t-shirts from Old Navy. What’s not to love? We have freedom of speech, democracy, a booming economy (just like most of the developed world, but you know, they aren’t AMERICA).
It’s the land of dreams, but it’s also the land of big egos. It can’t possibly get much better than what we’ve got going on here, right? America is great, but we’re just one freckle on a ginger. I’m not asking you to pack up and move overseas. I just think we can all make more of an effort to take a week or two off work, renew the passport you never use, and explore somewhere new.
Let me preface these by saying that none of these apply to people who belong to any tribe that was in this country before the European’s arrived. They have a deep, rich history and a struggle that is all their own. (A lot of that struggle on behalf of the European’s arrivals. I apologize for my ancestral chain of asshats.)
For the rest of us, America is a spring chicken when it comes to history. While we line up to take a peek at Ol’ Abe’s log cabin, people in Europe are walking through structures built thousands of years before little baby Jesus made his debut appearance.
It’s just an old building. Who cares?
It’s not an old building. It’s an origin story. Every building in America was built on the knowledge and experience of the builders who came before them. Pretty cool.
Their knowledge isn’t only helpful for building mansions. For every mistake our country has made, there is another country that’s already made it. When you visit a country, go to their museums instead of their cutest coffee shops, speak with their elderly instead of a tour guide, learn more about their history than their nightclub scene. For the same reason that should listen to your older brother when he tells you not to stick a fork in an electrical socket (after he has stuck previously mentioned fork in also mentioned socket), you should listen to the lessons that country has learned. We, as young Americans, are the future leaders of this country. If we learn from other’s mistakes, we can try to avoid making them ourselves.
But we have so much culture! We’re the melting pot of the world!
Are we, though?
Sure, we have pockets of culture shoved back into the corners of cities, and I bet you know the best place to get real, authentic falafel.
But the majority of America’s middle-class culture is pretty unanimous.
What you don’t get to experience is an entire nation of people living together with a completely different set of religious ideas, moral standings, and order of priorities. It gives you some perspective to understand that there are a number of ways for a society to function. You may even find ways other countries handle things better than we do. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but America doesn’t do everything perfectly (shocking, I know).
Don’t miss out on expanding your views just because it might mean your current views are a little off.
There are 7.4 billion people in the world. Only 324 million live in the United States.
Do I need much more explanation than that? Each and every one of the 7.4 billion people breathing in the same air as you, has their own story and experience. I guarantee that you will do nothing but gain love and inspiration by collecting these stories.
Do you think it’s cool to spend two weeks in an exotic city? Take some time to sit down with someone who has lived there for their entire life, seen the good and the bad of it, and developed a deep patriotism to their home. Just like your patriotism for the U.S.A.
You’ll leave the city with older and richer memories than all the other tourists who breezed in, drank piña coladas on the beach, and grumpily flew home with sunburn and a hangover.
What it feels like to be an outsider
This might be the most important of them all. Every single one of us needs to know what it feels like to spend 10 frustrating minutes trying to ask for directions in a place where all the signs and the people speak a language you don’t understand.
Have someone in line at the cafe sigh at you because you’ve taken too long to figure out how to say your drink order in a tongue you studied back in high school. Get cast dirty looks from someone near you because you and your friends finally have a chance to speak English among yourselves, after struggling all day to communicate with people in an unknown place.
You need to really, truly experience what it’s like to feel like a burden and an annoyance. Feel the embarrassment of doing everyday things that you don’t realize are socially unacceptable in this different culture.
Be a bumbling, lost, embarrassing foreigner.
Then, take that embarrassment back home, keep it close to you, and remember it every time you encounter something like this happening in America (and it happens constantly). Treat new people on your own soil kinder because you’ve had a taste of what it’s like to be them. America is great, but so is where they came from, and they shouldn’t have to give up part of themselves just because you’re frustrated that they aren’t like you.
Assimilation is for squares.
Travel because the world is a beautiful place full of beautiful people and you are just one piece of a Kittens in a Basket puzzle. You’ll never be whole without all of them.