Things I’ve Learned Since Returning to the US

Being American REALLY skews my view of the world. I think I knew that before I left but now it’s in my face obvious. I stated previously that being called the “American girl” got old. It got me thinking why did it bother me to have that as an identifier? What about being American makes me so different than say a Dutch person?

I had no idea how much of a microscope America is under by the rest of the world. Everything we do is scrutinized. This is a great country to live in but it isn’t always peachy living here. We are so different. I think about the state I live in- North Carolina. I’m from the farthest east you can go on the coast. When I am driving from my home west to another part of the state the geography and people change within a matter of hours. We have the beach, country, cities and mountains in North Carolina. Region has a huge impact on development. We have almost any type of ‘American’ you can name. Businessman, homeless, working class, white collar, redneck, surfer dude, stay at home mom, rich, poor, black, Asian, Native American, Indian, Latino, the list goes on. I mentioned in previous posts how homogeneous the Netherlands is (for the most part). That cannot be said for America. I understand now why it takes so long for legislation to pass, why we can’t agree on anything, and why there is so much hatred. We’re taught to be ourselves, be unique and we should be accepted for just that. But, we aren’t. We ridicule one another for being fat, skinny, rich, poor, from one part of the country or state, having a certain accent, profession, race, religion, etc. I love the fact that in the apartment complex I live in I can see all sorts of different people on a daily basis. I go to the store and I see people of different shapes, sizes and colors. We dress differently, talk differently and live differently. That’s part of the appeal of America or at least I thought. But is loving and accepting diversity something ingrained in me because I am American? The Dutch promote parsimony and sameness. Being ‘normal’ is important to them. I’m not just saying this because it’s what I think I’m saying it because my own Dutch professors told me this was so. If I were Dutch would I be so keen to diversity? I don’t know.

I didn’t stand out while I was in Europe (or at least NL). I’m tall, blonde haired and blue eyed and many assumed I was Dutch. So maybe if I had looked different than something people were accustomed to seeing I would have had a different experience. But also, I believe, that because I was able to blend in I was able to observe discretely. People treat you according to the way you look you can’t escape that. Not until someone found out I was American did they start treating me differently. I got the “Are you from NYC?, Texas?, Los Angeles?” basically immediately. When my answer was no they were often disappointed. Then the stereotypical questions began. “Do you own a gun? Or do you like George Bush?” Many Europeans make it seem like individuals who answered yes to the two previous questions and yes to being from Texas are a joke (or we’re made to believe that). But while I was over there they were completely enamored by people who fit that profile. They wanted to know all about it. Perhaps because it is so different from their lifestyle. I can understand that. I am enamored by someone who lives in a 9th floor apartment in Paris. I can’t relate to that fabulousness I live in Raleigh!

I think that the way of life in the Netherlands works for them. Their political system and way of life suits the Dutch people. I think that America needs to stop comparing ourselves to countries like the Netherlands because we are another entity entirely. I think that we can model legislation and things after other countries but I think we need to focus more on what works for us the way we are right now and what can make us better. Not “look at the Netherlands political system why can’t we be like that?” Well, because we’re not them. They have consensus politics we DO NOT and I seriously doubt we ever will. We can’t even agree on the simplest things! I can only hope that somehow our government can make the decision to focus on what needs done here and takes into consideration all the historical events, differences, likenesses, successes and tragedies that have made us the country we are today. I’m sick of us looking like a joke to the rest of the world. I’m sick of having to defend the country I live in. I didn’t chose to be born a caucasion, middle-class American woman. But, I am so I’m doing what I can with the cards I was dealt. Live and let live. Think logically. Be objective as possible. Why is the US the way it is? Why is the Netherlands or China or Columbia the way it is? Is what they are doing work for them? Maybe in some ways it’s not. But in others it is otherwise they would have collapsed. I think no matter if your country is homogeneous or diverse we all have something to contribute the world as a whole (take that as you want). I know it’s impossible to not have biases while looking at the world. I’m doing my best everyday to learn and grow. To be educated about cultural differences within my own state, country and the world I live in. I realize all this might sound preachy or pretentious but I don’t mean it like that. I’m just reflecting. I’m ready to do more traveling around the world. Not as a passive tourist but as an active learner.


About Ivy

I'm Ivy. 23 years old, resident of the great state of North Carolina. Lover of music, tea, unicorns, traveling and daydreaming. I have one blog about my semester abroad in the Netherlands. The other is a compilation of things I've written.
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