WSU Abroad: Back in the USA

America has a way of following you around wherever you go.

I was thinking about that this Fourth of July weekend, how much of America is globalized. Every big city I went to in Europe, I could count on seeing McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC. And the American primary election candidates were often on the news.

I had to make sure I was following the news back home in order to have intelligent conversations with people I met who would find out I was American and ask my opinion on Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush (who I like to call by his campaign name, Jeb!) or Donald Trump.

So really, when I came back to America, talking about American things wasn’t much of a transition. I didn’t experience much in the way of reverse culture shock.

That said, I did feel the urge to start singing “America the Beautiful” as my plane touched down in New York City.

If you’ve read my columns the last few weeks, you know I absolutely love to travel and was abroad on my own for a month and a half at the start of summer. I love the adventure, the spontaneity, and the unforgettable experiences.

But another part of travel is homecoming. And I love that part too.

I finally arrived home after a rather spectacular lightning storm delayed my flight to Seattle by more than two hours. It was almost midnight, I had been awake for 34 hours since I can’t sleep on planes very well, and when I saw my parents waiting for me at the gate I almost cried, I was so happy to see them.

I didn’t have to pretend I was an expert in US policy anymore, and I was free from the obligation to be the best traveler ever.

You see, there’s a stereotype around American travelers – that they’re often pushy, rude, loud, and inconsiderate. Because I know that’s not true of most Americans, I felt like I had to prove that wrong.

I researched every place I went before I traveled there, I learned words in the local language so I could get by without demanding people speak English, and I made every effort I could to be as polite as possible – trying to be the opposite of that stereotype.

I felt like I needed to represent my country to everyone I met, and give a positive impression.

In most places it worked. I was often mistaken for Canadian, actually. Although I think I just confused everyone in Germany. I smiled at everyone and nobody smiled back; they just looked at me like they were concerned for my health.

When I got home and I didn’t feel like the American Tourist Ambassador anymore, I could relax. I didn’t need to do research or learn phrases in any other languages before I went anywhere. It was all so easy.

I miss Europe. I’m already planning where I’ll go the next time I have the means to travel there again. I’m also planning my dream trips to Oceania, Africa, and Asia.

America doesn’t have the castles. It doesn’t have thousands of years of history. We just celebrated America’s 239th birthday – relatively speaking, it’s a very young country. It doesn’t have cathedrals that have been standing for two thousand years. It doesn’t have ruins dotting the fields.

But it’s home. And there’s no place like it.