A slight feeling of patriotism is in the air for many Americans living in Cape Town. President Obama visited Cape Town two weeks ago as part of his State visit to South Africa. In addition to Obama’s visit, we just observed Independence Day, bringing memories from past 4th of July celebrations.
Last year, Nashvillian friends and I watched fireworks while (ironically) reflecting on what we loved most about America. Whether I knew it at the time or whether the absence of such things now made me appreciate their value—S’mores, Michael Jackson, Dollywood, chocolate chip cookie dough, Mexican food, and live blues concerts were on the top of my list. However, 4 July 2012, I was very far from what I would call patriotic.
Although after nine months of living outside of the country, my perception of the United States has shifted. I wouldn’t say that America is the greatest nation, but I have a much deeper appreciation for it now. Living in another country has given me significant insight in the strengths and weaknesses of the United States. Throughout daily life in South Africa, it is impossible not to compare the two countries and notice how different parts of life are better and worse in each place.
While I miss faster internet and the life of convenience found in the US, it is appalling how little Americans, in general, know about the world. I certainly wouldn’t say I’m suddenly an authority on international affairs, but in nine months I have been far more exposed to diverse cultures in Cape Town than my entire life in the United States. This is partially due to the fact that I’ve only lived in Tennessee, but even my education gave me little knowledge of international affairs and foreign languages.
Americans’ exposure of international affairs at a superficial level is also exasperated by the over-saturation of American affairs in international markets. The world knows so much about my culture and I know so little about the world. The best and worst qualities of American culture are on display, often making Americans completely overbearing and the object of ridicule. It is hardly fair. Luckily, I better understand the negative stereotypes of Americans and do my best to leave them unfulfilled; I even make fun of the US and Americans with my international and South African friends. However, I sometimes find myself defending my culture and feeling frustrated when people think the American experience is the same for everyone.
This phenomenon has led me to welcome time with other Americans, because I don’t have to constantly define the realities and myths of American stereotypes broadcasted to the world. While I am grateful of my time with South Africans and other foreign nationals, I look forward to the time when I do not have to explain myself for using an excessive amount of ketchup. Until then, I will value the insight I receive from viewing the US through international perspectives.