Travel the world to hear foreign stories of independence

Reporter and Reporter

During the spring semester, I studied abroad in Spain.

Ever since the day I crossed the Atlantic, I wanted to write something for The BG News. At the same time, I knew nobody wanted to hear about a “super cool vacation adventure.” I was waiting for something of true value to discuss. For the longest time, I didn’t know what to say.

Until now.

Throughout the semester in Spain, I was waiting for that “Ah-ha!” moment in which I’d discover something huge about myself. It didn’t come.

So I assumed I’d have a moment of clarity when I returned to the United States. It didn’t come. (Though eating a fatty, delicious cheeseburger was pretty darn close to a moment of clarity.)

About a month later, the real moment finally came at an unlikely time: when I was getting a haircut.

“How was your trip?” the hairdresser asked, in a tone of subtle conversation. I’ve gone to her since the first hairs grew on my head.

“It was really good,” I told her. “You know, I feel that some people in our country are super patriots, while others are always bashing the United States. After Spain, I think I’m right in the middle. After being in Spain, I learned that their culture has a lot to offer. At the same time, there are so many great gifts we have in the USA. There is so much to learn from every country and culture.”

I thought I’d given a practical, realistic outlook. Still, she responded in a way that shocked me.

“That saddens me,” she said. “Younger generations seem to forget all of the sacrifice and work that was put into creating the United States. Our founding fathers had to fight for our freedom. They don’t know how blessed and lucky they are to be citizens of this country. It’s not arrogance, it’s just being aware.”

Was she being serious?

I wanted to spin around and glare into her eyes, but I held back and stayed calm, mainly because I’m non-confrontational and I didn’t particularly want a scissor blade in my eyeball.

In the past, I probably would’ve smiled and softly agreed. USA is number one. We’ve got freedom. Oh, and let’s not forget “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

If you’re not careful, these ideas can evolve into a dangerous level of ignorance. An ignorance that can prevent us from learning from the rest of the world.

Before I continue, I have an important disclaimer.

I am no world history expert, nor am I an American history expert.

There is no doubt in my mind that there are people who can delve much deeper than I can. I’m not going to pretend I know things that I don’t.

If you have more to say, let us know. But for now, I’m going to stick with the basics.

Though I’m not a history major, I do acknowledge that our founding fathers were hard-working people. It’s true that we had to fight to keep our independence.

Even though deeper research shows our founding fathers might not have been as noble as we learned in elementary school (i.e. look up what we did to the Native Americans), I respect and love the country they left for us. When I think about our troops — as cliché as it may sound — I am proud to be an American.

Still, being nationally proud is not the same as being arrogantly ignorant. When I was in Spain, I took SPAN 3710, a class about Spanish civilization.

Spain was under a dictatorship for more than half of the 20th century. Talk about fighting for your freedom. Spain did so less than 50 years ago. They know the word “freedom” firsthand.

Here’s the thing: there are stories of independence everywhere.

But more importantly, there are stories – period – everywhere, with so much to be learned. And they’re not just “listen-to-this-because-you’ll-realize-how-lucky-you-are-to-be-an-American” types of tales.

Believe it or not, fellow Americans, some cultures live differently.

And — if I do say so myself — they are much happier because of it.

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