Monday, February 10, 2014

It's Not Always Black or White

Today's Prompt:  “‘Expat Syndrome’ is a condition whereby many expatriates see mostly either the best of their own nationality & the worst of the locals, or see the opposite.” -T Crossley

This prompt is one that really gets you thinking once you've lived internationally. There is a difference between being a tourist in a country, and living among the local culture of that country. Living there makes you become part of it; you have to, unless you want to be miserable and bitter and 'that guy'. And being part of it, part of the culture - well that's what it's really all about. I think that's why most people choose (and it is a choice for most people) to live the international lifestyle. I KNOW I have learned more in the past 3 1/2 years than I probably learned in the 10 years prior to that.

One of the things I have learned (& truly experienced) is that there is more than one perspective, or point of view, with most everything. This prompt is even an example of this, in my opinion. At first I looked at this prompt and thought of it as an 'agree or disagree' type of deal. But then I read it as it is, a definition of a syndrome - one that I am proud to say I do not have. I do not see the 'best in America and the worst in (insert country here)', and I don't see the 'worst in America and the best in these other countries.'  For me, it's not an 'either/or' type of deal. Fortunately, I have many friends I have met from different countries who are 'non-examples' of this definition as well.

Many people have heard me say that doing this international thing has made me appreciate America more, but at the same time it has opened my eyes to the many, glaring 'wrongs' of our country. That whole Freedom thing? Yeah, that's pretty damn awesome. It is something that should truly be appreciated every day. But the horribleness that goes on in our government (the same government that is supposed to run on the founding principles that gave us that freedom) is so appalling that it takes away from the very things that make our country great. However, seeing places that don't have those rights - those freedoms - is sad. Living in countries where speaking out against your government can get you jailed (best case scenario) is a real eye-opener. While I do appreciate the freedom of speech, I think that Americans take it WAY too far. I also think that too many Americans have taken this liberty and applied it to everything, everywhere. Even when traveling, that stereo-typically 'bad' tourist will often demonstrate this by talking about anything, to anyone - and doing it loudly, and sometimes rudely. Americans are often too easy to pick out of a crowd - the shoes, the sports teams shirts/jerseys/hats, the obesity (yes...I can honestly say that I see this way more from Americans than any other country. Out of 45 kids in a class in Morocco, there was maybe one obese child.)
I say this about Americans, but will also say that you can often pick out someone from the U.K., or  other countries as well based on a few 'stereotypes' as well. However, Americans too often give off that aura of "I'm an American, therefore you should look upon me as being superior and for traveling abroad." Whereas the people from Europe or other countries just see the traveling as a way of life. They take it more in stride, if you will.

I think the biggest thing I have learned from leaving America is this - 'Different' does not mean 'Wrong'. This covers a lot of territory from religions, culture, traditions, food, transportation, lifestyle, etc. I still think America is a pretty great country. I miss it and I love it and I'm proud to be an American. No doubt about it. But I am also proud that I'm not the American who can't see fault or room for improvement in so much of what we do, what we say, how we say it, how we act, and how we treat others. There is much to be said for trying to acquire understanding from those who are different from you; those who life differently than you.

There are a lot of cultures, and people in those cultures who don't like Americans. Some of them might have legitimate reasons for that disdain, and some of them probably do not. There are also a lot of cultures, and people in those cultures, who think America is the greatest thing ever. It's like Hollywood or Disney World in that you will hear people say they want to visit America someday as if it holds celebrity status of some sort. These are the things that make it interesting to see people's reactions when you say you are from America.

In the end, this world we live in is a really big place. The U.S. is a big country in this big world. It offers a little bit of everything, for everyone - this is certain. But so do other places, other countries, other cultures. If you give them a chance, they might surprise you with their gifts and what they can teach you. And maybe America will someday surprise me again in that way as well. In the meantime, I will keep on experiencing whatever is thrown my way, and try to not pass judgement too harshly or quickly.