Let’s be real, some day I will probably be an expat. In fact, I aspire to be one. Don’t get me wrong– America is the land of opportunity. I’m glad I grew up with everything I had. There are a lot of advantages I have growing up American. Even though the job market is awful right now, what I’ve gathered from foreigners is that there are more opportunities to grow and do interesting things than in some other places. But like a bad relationship, I’ve learned what I can and now it’s time to move on. Plus, the more I get to know people, the more I believe that Americans are truly ignorant. When I was in talks with my host family, they were concerned about me meeting people since I really don’t know anyone here. I mean, ya my best friend grew up here so she can kind of introduce me to her friends via facebook, but other than that I know no one. The family was afraid that I would come here, not make any friends, be lonely/homesick, and leave after two weeks. That’s obviously not the case as I have met a lot of people in just two weeks of being here and even without others I have been able to explore the city and make my way around. Anyway, from this concern the mom sent me a link to a facebook group called “Americans in Sydney” or something like that. To be honest, I’m not really keen on meeting other Americans, which she figured but sent it anyway. There’s a reason I chose to come abroad, you know? I figured I might as well give it a chance because the more people I meet, the better. I joined the group and didn’t find any interest in it as most of the people are much older, here because their job or their spouse’s job relocated them here. The other day though someone posted something which caught my attention. This woman asked if anyone else found Aussies to be socially awkward.
Hold the phone.
My best friend grew up in Sydney. Her family was among many of my second families. They were nothing short of welcoming, gregarious, wonderful people and every Aussie friend of theirs that I met was the same way. And trust me, I met a lot of Aussies. I’m pretty sure they know every single Aussie in Southern California and they’re all nothing short of fantastic. Even within an hour of being in this country, I found everyone I met to be helpful and so kind to me! This woman posting this was obviously meeting the wrong people! I read some of the comments and another woman was saying that the connections she has with Aussies are nowhere near the connection she had with her friends back home. WELL DUH, LADY. YOU JUST GOT HERE. She has probably known her friends from home for years. Of course she has a magical connection with them! I obviously don’t have a connection with anyone here yet that I have with people back home because I just got here. Friendships need time to cultivate and grow. Maybe if you spent enough time trying to reach out to people and actually put effort into your newfound Aussie friendships, then you wouldn’t find Aussies to be so “socially awkward” or whatever it is that you called them. I find this to be a really common theme with Americans, that they will travel abroad and just expect things to be like they are in America. A lot of Americans go to other countries, without even a basic knowledge of the language because they expect them to speak English. In their own country.
Where they have their own national language.
Granted, learning every language before you go abroad is pretty much impossible and in a lot of places they do speak some english. I’m also not saying you have to be fluent, or even conversational, but you should at least attempt to learn basic phrases and even carry them around on paper so should you get lost or want to order food then you’ll be able to! I’m horrified and mildly offended at the actions of so many Americans when they go to new places. That is, if they even go to new places.
This brings me to my main point, something that I’ve been wanting to write about for a while. While I’m offended by a lot of the touristy Americans, I’m more offended by those who have no desire to travel whatsoever. And no, I am not exaggerating. I actually find this offensive. I know a lot of people who haven’t been outside of the country or even outside of the state, people who have also never been on an airplane and it absolutely blows my mind. I mean, I know traveling is kind of expensive. For a long time that was my excuse. My plane ticket to Australia cost a pretty penny and plane tickets to a lot of places can get quite pricey but there are ways to do it. A friend of mine once recommended a great book called Vagabonding which talks about all the ways in which you can travel and afford to do so. Traveling is not just for the wealthy. There are so many ways to go abroad and afford it. Ya, it’ll se you back a bit financially–you’re spending money but it’s money well spent. Wouldn’t you rather spend money having an incredible night roaming the streets of Italy or wandering the ruins of Angkor Wat instead of on a wild night of happy hour at Fridays? I’m being serious. I know the image of a wild night at Fridays is humorous but let’s be real, people spend their money on stupid things. You can travel and these experiences are incredibly worth it. You don’t have to take six months out of your life to go live in a new country like I am. You can go for a few weeks and cruise around a continent purely for vacation. However, I guarantee you will learn more about yourself and the world in those few weeks or months than you will ever learn by sitting in a classroom or staying in the same small town, doing the same small things day in and day out. I don’t understand why people have absolutely no desire to see even other places in America. I’m ok with people taking baby steps and starting out by going to other places in America if that means it’ll fuel their desire to see outside of what our borders have to offer but sitting around saying “eh” to the rest of the world is just ridiculous to me.
I think I have my parents to thank for my love of the world. Growing up first generation American, with two parents who were raised in several countries and are incredibly well traveled, parents who didn’t believe in needing to assimilate to “white” American culture (don’t mistake that for being anti-American–rather they raised me to be proud to be American but also proud of my diverse heritage). My parents came to America as teens but really grew up in completely different cultures, not just from America but also from each other so growing up I had the best of a lot of worlds. When they were young they traveled extensively, and to this day travel to no end. Now that they’re both retired, they have gone to more countries in one year than I have in my entire life I think and they’re planning more and more trips as we speak. They inspire me to travel and have instilled in me a love for other cultures as a result. They have supported my love for travel and for this I am extremely grateful. A lot of people asked how my parents felt about me taking off to the other side of the world while I was making this decision. To be honest, I had no idea. They hadn’t said anything other than, “how do you know the family you’re speaking to is a real family?” and “you’re sure this is what you want to do?” I think people asked this so much because most parents would freak out if their kid just took off to another state, let alone country, even if they are at an age when they’re on their own. I get it, parents worry and they should. I’m sure my parents worried some but they know I’m old enough to handle myself and figure it out. It’s kind of like throwing a baby bird out of the nest and hoping it flies–it’ll never learn by reading books about it (pretend birds can read) or watching. It has to do it on its own and so do you. At the airport while we were waiting for a shuttle, my mom said, “It’s your turn to go on adventures. We’ve all done it” and recounted stories of her adventures abroad when she was my age and even younger.
Is ignorance bliss? In this case, I certainly don’t think so. In fact, in most situations it’s not the case but that’s a different story. Traveling makes you a different person–hopefully a better person and I think everyone should experience it when they can especially when they’re young. Now is the time because we don’t have mortgages or other crazy bills to pay off. Most bills can be paid online anyway so it’s not as big of a deal as you think. Most of us haven’t embarked on careers and are just working shitty jobs anyway so what’s actually tying you down? I’ve been talking to a friend who is interested in doing what I’m doing but had concerns about all of these jobs, bills, things she had to leave behind. After discussing it some I think we came up with a lot of really easy solutions. We’re young. It’s feasible. Most of us also don’t (and shouldn’t) care about being dirty and sleeping in some shady hostel like we probably will when we’re older. We don’t need fancy beds with back support and complimentary shampoo in the showers. Save that for when you’re old and have money. For now, go somewhere. Anywhere. I went to a presentation by the study abroad office at my uni before I left and they were saying most people, if they study abroad, wait until their senior year or after their senior year to go. They want people going as early in their college career as possible because they come back different people and add even more to the vibrant student life that exists at our school. It also changes the way they spend their remaining time at uni and how they view life afterwards. Even if you’ve graduated, it’ll change you as a person. Like I said in my last post, a lot of the girls I’ve met here are traveling for their gap year, something we don’t do in America. I think we should encourage this–it would change the mentality of our college freshman! Plus, I think everyone should be able to have time to do things like this at least once in their life.
I know this is a long post but if you’re going to walk away with anything it’s that you should just go somewhere. Save $100 and fly to San Francisco if that’s all you can afford right now. Just go!
I promise you will love it. And if you don’t, well, I have no money to give back to you so…you’re SOL I guess.