A friend recently asked us, “What’s your perception on America after being away?” Truth be told, we don’t spend a whole lot of time pondering this type of question. Maybe we should, but for the most part we are simply trying to enjoy the world and soak up every moment. Nonetheless, her question was a good one and did get us thinking about America. In honor of the 4th of July, we wrote this post to share some of our reflections about our home country after being away for the past half year. This is by no means a full summary of everything that’s going on in our heads, but is simply some food for thought. To all Americans at home and abroad, happy Independence Day!
Close your eyes and picture “an American.” We’ll wait………..What does he or she look like?
The words “melting pot” are regularly used to describe the United States. Since the founding of our country, people from all over the world have made their way to the U.S. in search of their dreams. If there is one question that we have been asked more than any other during our trip it is, “Where are you from?” Surprisingly, many people look at Mike and say, “You don’t look American. Where are you really from?” As one man in Turkey put it, “Americans look like her” (as he pointed to Amy). At first we didn’t know how to respond, but now whenever a conversation arises about what Americans are supposed to look like, we respond by saying that in our eyes, they too look like an American.
Early on in our trip we noticed that despite what you hear on the news, most people do not harbor anti-American sentiment. On rare occasion, some people that we’ve met have expressed frustration about our country’s foreign policies, but for the most part Americans are still well-liked, and the U.S.A. ranks high as a country that people would like to visit. This positive attitude towards Americans is different than what we expected to encounter. A common joke we heard before leaving was, “If you get into trouble, just tell them you’re Canadian.” At the six month mark of our trip, we are happy to report that we haven’t claimed to be anything but American. Traveling has emphasized to us the importance of separating individuals from politics, and the value in engaging in dialogue with foreigners. Like it or not, every traveler is an ambassador for their country.
More and more, we have come to realize that Americans do not travel internationally as much as our world neighbors. For that reason, we are often received with surprise and curiosity by locals and other travelers. “Why don’t other Americans take long trips?” people often ask. Travel is so engrained in the lifestyle of people in other developed countries, but not so much in the United States. For instance, many Australians and Kiwis travel during their gap year between high school and university. Europeans take summer holiday for months at a time. We have been pondering this trend, and it seems that Americans don’t travel abroad as frequently because they simply do not have the time. What do you think prevents Americans from traveling abroad?
Due to the fact that we generally stay in hostels, we are constantly engaging in conversation with other travelers. As we mentioned previously, many people view Americans in a positive light and want to visit the U.S., however, a lot of would-be tourists are not able to get permission. This trip has made us realize how difficult our country makes it for foreigners to visit. Tourist visas, work visas and green cards are incredibly difficult to get. Not to mention, the system for acquiring access to the United States is not created with equality in mind; the level of difficulty has a great deal to do with one’s country of origin. We think that allowing more people to visit and work in our country would be a great way to share our culture with the world.
Some of our perceptions of America have changed during our RTW trip, others have not, and our views will further evolve as we continue to make our way around the world. On this 4th of July, we are particularly cognizant of how grateful we are to have been born in the U.S.A. We don’t know when we will be returning stateside, but we will always be happy to know that it is our home.