I know that most of us finished blogging about this amazing experience about a month ago, but I guess I am just now ready to finalize some of my thoughts regarding the views that the people we met with around the world have about Americans. For me, there were two major takeaways.
One, I am lucky enough to live in a bubble that doesn’t require me to know the intricacies of foreign governments and the moves that politicians make thousands of miles away. I don’t take classes in high school to ensure that I am up to date on the governing bodies of Switzerland or Italy. Instead, I know how my government operates, and if I so desire, I look to outside resources to keep up to date on international affairs. That is a luxury that many people are not afforded. The citizens of Germany, Switzerland, and Italy cannot be ignorant to the moves of the United States, because the moves that America makes effect the way the world works. Our foreign diplomacy not only affects our trade and our safety, but those of countless other countries relying on our support and aide. While CR traveled throughout Europe, we talked to the people around us and one of the most common questions we received was about Trump. What is he up to? Do we like him? Support him? Do we think he will stay in office or be impeached?
I know that at the moment, I could not have told you the Swiss President’s name, but it only took one google search to find out that the country is managed by a seven-members Council which is considered as a collective Head of State. I do not know Italy’s diplomatic stance on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, nor do I know the names of the upcoming nominees for Germany’s election in September. I used to think that as a political science student and a generally curious person, I knew more about international politics than the average person, but I was quickly put in my place by the Europeans. I could simply live my life ignorant of foreign affairs if I so chose, and my life could go on perfectly. But that is not the case in most places around the world. We saw first hand that people are paying attention to us, and looking to us for answers. I will only speak for myself here, but I was almost embarrassed to be an American in Florence the day that we woke up to find ourselves alongside of Syria and Nicaragua, the two other UN countries to not support the Paris Climate Accord. In Europe, I learned that the world is watching us, I only hope that we respond in a way to enrich us all.
Secondly, I learned how lucky I am to speak English. Without really having given it a second thought, I learned the international language. I can travel almost anywhere in the world, and people will speak my language. By no other luck than being born in this amazing country, I can go anywhere, and the difficulty of learning another language is other people’s problem. The years of studying, embarrassment of mispronouncing words, and awkward half gesturing/half English conversations are not something that I have to really worry about. From Germany to Italy, people accommodate me, and this was a humbling experience. I have spent years studying Spanish, and I would only call myself proficient. However, I was never told that learning Spanish would be the difference between a paycheck or not, it was simply something I thought I’d try and ended up enjoying. Abroad, I realized that for many people, languages = money. In the US, we may think anyone can be a hostess, waitress, peddler or store owner, but in other countries, these same jobs may require the person to speak three or four languages just to get by. Up until this trip, I took the ability to speak English for granted, it is a skill that opens countless doors for me, but can close so many for others.
When I look back and think of how we were viewed as Americans, politics and language were the two things that followed us everywhere. In every city of each country, this was a common denominator about the 18 of us. Sure we were viewed as loud and obnoxious at times, I’m sure we broke a few customs and maybe even offended a person or two (all on accident of course), but ultimately through the eyes of others, I learned how lucky I am to be an American.