Now can be considered a time of reflection on our values in this country. Who are we? How do we see ourselves? Is that different than how the rest of the world sees us?
The last question seems to have a particularly prominent air nowadays, and a bitter one at that. However, without going into politics, how can we be the ones to change this new perception? Who are we, from the inside and out?
A unique way to share our views and show the world what it means to be ‘American’ can come through travel. I recently spent the last half of 2016 in Germany and was told many times “You are American? I have never met an American before!” from people of different countries who happened to be visiting the same time I was. Yet, these same people have met Americans before. In their TV shows. In their movies. In their magazines. On their news. The preconceived notion of what it means to be “American” is unremitting and extensive. US influence has allowed the nation to put forward its culture, ideology, and language. But what did that mean to me? How was I being American different than the “American” I see myself as?
It was there in Germany that I was given the opportunity to change some of these notions. Was I perhaps perceived, even expected, to be ‘a loud American’ in public places? Sure! But did I have to be? No. Going away I was able to change my personal preconceived notions and learn too. I was able to learn about the Scottish point of view in separating from the crown with a conversation with a Scotsman I had in Portugal. I was able to learn more about the way the EU functions from a Polish professor in Germany. I was able to hear an Icelandic perspective on their view of the United States. I was in no means the person to say “oh, this is the way America is”, but I was able to show a new perspective that could show positivity and understanding in the world. Even if I didn’t contribute to anyone’s perspective on what Americans are like or what America is like, I was able to learn and listen and bring back to my country a newly understood and appreciated view of other countries.
I learned that sometimes we are called not necessarily to “define” who we are or where we are from, but instead to show others a kind and tolerant peoples of the global community.
It can be scary going out into the world, not knowing languages or cultures or people. But when you do, you can have the opportunity to familiarize yourself with these things, and in turn familiarize your peers. It is with the opening of your mind that you are able to continue to learn, all the while knowing that you too have the ability to teach others and build new perspectives.
About the Author:
Isabella Corpora is a third year Political Science and Society and Environment major at UC Berkeley. When not traveling the world, she enjoys spending time on the water with her Dragonboat team and eating tacos with friends.