Wikimedia Commons photo by AshtonNekolah
Anyone that travels abroad has their own experiences and impressions which they walk away with. The diversity of cultures and nations offer near endless opportunities of immersion.
Every individual brings their shared experiences with them from their native culture. Every society has its own unique narrative, which acts as a lens they view the world through. This lens is the way by which they form their opinions of the foreign lands they visit. This is the lens through which they interact with the people of these societies. This narrative is how they compare and contrast between them and us, exposing our commonallities and differences.
Traveling domestic or abroad, the breadth of opinions from Americans of what marks us as a nation and how we fit in the global context is revealing. A conversation of great interest, I turned to the community of American travel bloggers and sought their opinions and reflections from their time abroad. I asked them, "What has travel has taught you about being American?" These are the responses of a select few (many more well heeled than myself):
Jennifer Quillen - http://therebelchick.com
"When I was on a press trip to Jamaica last year, we went horseback riding through a small village. Some of the huts didn't have roofs, doors or windows. It was my first real experience with poverty and made me realize how lucky I was to have been born in the United States."
Bret Love - http://www.greenglobaltravel.com
"What travel taught me about being American is that we, by and large, are a very spoiled lot. Whether you're visiting cinder block houses from the Apartheid era in South Africa, cobbled-together shacks in the Caribbean, or the flooded Amazonian houses of Peru's Ribereños, you see that most people in the world get by with MUCH less material wealth than we Americans have been blessed with. And yet somehow, despite the fact that they struggle to fulfill the basic human needs that we often take for granted (food, clean water, shelter, etc.), these people seem significantly happier than your average American. But the greatest discovery for me was that people in developing nations do not seem to begrudge us for our success: Even in the Middle Eastern nation of Jordan, people grinned broadly and welcomed us with open arms when they found out where we were from. I think we, as a country, could learn a lot from their open-mindedness, warmth and generosity."
Dani Blanchette - http://goingnomadic.com
"Number 1 things I've learned in short: I’m a fucking princess! In America we think we are bad ass (especially when you are a woman working 'hard' manual labor in a man's job), until you get out of the country. I tried migrant working in Colombia. Those guys are hardcore. 14 hours a day, in the sun, with poisonous snakes and creatures, and parasitic flies for $10 a day.
We have no idea how good we have it here. How easy our life is, until we try to live like a local in another country."
Austin Beeman - http://www.armchairtraveler.tv
"In my travels I've learned. 1) America's poor aren't really poor. 2) The greatest luxury we have as American's isn't money. It is space - just visit a bathroom anywhere in the world."
Mary Turner - http://travel-with-teens.com
"Taking kids to Washington DC - visiting National archives, air and space museum, holocaust museum, war memorials, etc. really reminded us about the price so many have paid for the freedoms we take for granted."
Larissa Milne - http://www.changesinlongitude.com
"We just finished a 400-day RTW. We learned that America can be both beloved and hated, sometimes by the same people. In North Korea we met people who are taught from an early age to hate America. Yet when we met them they were as friendly to us as people anywhere else. We learned that while governments are in conflict, people generally get along. They are also very forgiving. In areas of Vietnam that had been bombed by us during the war people embraced us when we told them we were American and said "America-Vietnam friends now." We also came back less materialistic than we were before we left and are having a bit of a culture shock upon reentry to the US. Living out of a 22" suitcase for a year will do that to you."
Laura Ann Klein - http://edgyjunecleaver.com/
"Despite how angry and impatient I am with the US politicians, even if I think our system is broken and we are all going to Hell in a hand basket; people I meet in other countries still think the US is the country that should be admired the most. I am always surprised by the people I meet who think the US is a great place."
Jenna Francisco - http://thisismyhappiness.com
"When I moved abroad at age 23, there were two important things I noticed right away. The first is that in many other places, the history is so complicated and sometimes tragic that our "problems" become insignificant compared to what much of the rest of the world faces or has faced. The second is that we need to relax. Spend more time with family and stop worrying about owning so much useless stuff. Laugh more."
Windwalker Duo - http://1dad1kid.com
"We're a father and son (11 yrs old) team traveling the world as full-time nomads. The more we're away from America, the more we see of other cultures. the less American we feel. Just finding it harder and harder to feel connected with the culture and attitudes there."
Susan Whitehead - http://www.FamilyTravelBucketList.com
"I think the biggest "take away" has been that in the USA, I lived in a culture of fear and was raising our 5 children to be afraid, too. I didn't realize how much those thoughts were part of my daily life...from not leaving the kids in the car for 30 seconds while I paid for gas at a gas station to making sure my husband or I was outside and visible to neighbors as the children played. Realizing your own country, that you love and are thankful to have been born, is a "nanny state" has been eye opening and confirms our decision to raise our kids somewhere else."
Nancy Sathre-Vogel - http://www.familyonbikes.org
"In my many years of living and traveling throughout the world I've that there is good and bad about every single country on earth. I've now gained perspective and am able to see things I love about my country, and areas I think we could learn a lot from other countries about. Perhaps the biggest area of concern is our perceived "self sufficiency." In the USA we tend to think we stand alone both as individuals and as a country. We would do much better to learn we're all in this together."
Jeremy Jones - http://www.livingthedreamrtw.com/
"As an American, the most interesting thing I have learned from traveling in respect to other traveling Americans I meet is that I can instantly assume what their political beliefs are. So far, I've only met one American who did not meet my basic assumptions and even then they were not off by much. There is something about travel, especially abroad, that opens peoples eyes. Or at the very least, attracts the same like minded attitude towards the world and our country. Then I come home and hear about our horribly low passport ownership rate and wish that I could just buy everyone a passport as an educational experience."
Traci LaRosa Suppa - http://gobigorgohomeblog.com
"Your question is timely for me, with the presidential election two weeks away. Travel has taught me to never take democracy for granted. Not only as an American, but as a female. For seven years of my childhood, I lived in Saudi Arabia. Even though I lived on a compound with other westerners, I was acutely aware that we could not go beyond the main gate without my father. Saudi women lead restricted lives based on the laws and culture. Granted, if I were raised in that country, in that culture, I might be content with the life I was born into. But as an American, nothing but a free society will do for me. This is the link to the page of my site which describes my life abroad."
Jessie Voigts - http://www.WanderingEducators.com
"Living overseas has taught me to be an inter-culturalist - to look at the ways people live in cultural context, and not to make judgments. To take the time to learn why people live the way they live. To try new things, despite my preconceived notions. And, to talk with locals, live like and with them - that is the best way to learn a culture. This, in turn, taught me to look more closely at my own culture and country, to explore more on my own turf, and to give just as much openness to learning about the United States as I do with other countries - there is so much of value to learn here (as with everywhere on earth)."
Deb Thompson - http://www.JustShortofCrazy.com
"Until I traveled outside the U.S. I didn't truly understand the vast diversity of cultures around the world. However, at our core, I realized that beneath our differences we are all so much alike. I've also learned that the majority of the world is very poor and I'm incredibly lucky to be from a first world country. Nothing brings home how good you have it until you see what it truly means to be cash poor.
Oh, travel has also taught me that I like running water and electricity....a lot."
Michele Herrmann - http://www.michelemherrmann.com
"As an American citizen, this is what travel has taught me:
We need to learn to take in the local scenery more often, just by people watching or relaxing in an open place. We rush through museums and landmarks too much that we miss out what could be found in between them.
Not everyone may understand what you're saying, so be patient and stay polite. It's good to try to pick up a few words or phrases used in the destination you're visiting. Though it's embarrassing to flub up on words, I find most locals appreciate your effort.
Don't buy a lot of junk or tacky souvenirs. The best keepsakes go beyond magnets: maps, regional finds, local goods and the like. Unfortunately, handmade items have become a too generic word and sadly tourist shops are carrying more things that may reflect the location but are not really made locally.
Sometimes your idea of what a bathroom should be isn't shared by all. Deal with it. Carry tissues and hand sanitizer.
You don't need all those clothes. Really! You can wear a pair of pants twice. Black can be worn with anything."
* I would like to thank all the Travel Bloggers that shared thier experiences and impressions with me.