Friday, January 11, 2013

Being an American

This picture is as American as it gets 
Living in the Middle East as an American is kind of like being from a notorious mob family. Sure, you're not in with the bootleggers and whatnot, and you know lots of family members who aren't, but eventually, your baggage is going to come up in conversation. Because everyone knows about that cousin of yours with a penchant for for assassinating world leaders, or crazy Uncle George, who killed a bunch of people and who's kind of the reason everyone hates your family in the first place. Sometimes they're embarrassing, a lot of the time they make terrible decisions, but, they're family, so you end up apologizing for them and feeling inexplicably defensive when someone says something negative about them, even when it's true.

It's a weird phenomenon that some of us exchange students have noticed, that we've become strangely more patriotic since coming to Oman. It's not like we were anarchists before (I'm pretty sure...) but I think personally that there's just a level of cynicism that comes with being a left-leaning politically-and-globally-aware young person. It's almost a form of homesickness, or the old adage "absence makes the heart grow fonder," that we remember the good things about the States now that we've been removed from it.  

I've never been (am certainly still am not) someone who buys into the whole "America--best country in the world" idea. That sort of thinking has no place in an increasingly interdependent global society, and the US has a long way to come in order to realize that. BUT, what living abroad has made me realize is that every country has issues. Some more than others, and I'm not saying that living in Oman has made America look good by comparison, not by a long shot. But problems in America are not uniquely American problems. 

Yes, in the US there is rampant ignorance and hypocrisy, yes money has our political system in a stranglehold, but every country has these issues to some extent or another, and if I have a problem with that I should be doing something to change it. So while it might be easier to pretend I'm Canadian, I'd rather make the effort to change perceptions about Americans abroad and to combat ignorance within the US--that's what the YES program is all about. I'm not blindly proud of my country, but I am committed to it; I believe that I can be a part of the change to make America a country of which many more people can be proud. 

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