I first visited another country during my freshman year of college, when I spent a weekend with a friend at her university in Toronto. I wasn’t particularly affected by the trip – I only needed a birth certificate to cross the border, and the only things that felt out of the ordinary were the different currency, subtitled French language, and use of Celsius. I don’t think I was quite ready to understand the beauty of a country that wasn’t my own.
Just under two years later, I boarded a plane for London, where I spent the first of two semesters studying abroad. I went into the experience knowing it would change me; I had no idea how profound that change would be. I could wax on for days about the effects of my two years of travel. Currently, one in particular seems appropriate:
If you’ve ever left your home country, you may have experienced an interesting phenomenon known as reverse culture shock. Each time I went abroad, I was so open to the traditions of the country in which I was a guest that adjustment was neither difficult nor complex. But returning home – that I was unprepared for.
The grocery stores were the biggest shock. I remember an employee coming to ask if I needed help after I had spent five minutes staring at the full wall of yogurts, unable to find a simple container of plain. I was hard-pressed to find a single bottle of salad dressing in Prague, but here there was an entire aisle devoted to them.
And the produce! It was all perfect. I remember standing in awe that not a single apple was specked with dirt, that every tray was abundantly full or in the process of being replenished. I couldn’t help but laugh at the signs informing shoppers that produce was monitored every thirty minutes. I had grown up with all these things, and yet, I had forgotten them.
July 4th is a celebration of the United States, a country of which I am proud to call myself a citizen. I am thankful for the opportunities that citizenship has granted me. And yet, many of us, myself included, complain about the flaws of this society. Living without the American standards of cleanliness, order, and availability for so long, I am well aware of the excess we enjoy, and I know it is unfair.
Today, however, I think it is simply important to say thank you. No, I don’t need a wall of seventy-five brands of yogurt. I don’t need perfectly arranged fruits and vegetables. Maybe we’ve gone too far – but look at how far we have come. From thirteen colonies to fifty states, we should beam at the progress we’ve made.
What makes you proud of your nationality?