I am a little embarrassed to say this—I love the United States. No, not in that “Buy a flag at Wal-Mart for just $9.99” way. Nor am I patriotic in the sense that “I support our troops so I don’t question our President.” And yet, one of the most important lessons I have learned from a semester abroad in Brazil and a summer traveling in Europe and North Africa is that I truly love this country. Just as I had to leave my family and friends in order to understand how much I need them, I had to leave my country to see the U.S. for what it really is.
Before my progressive readers gag or my more conservative readers celebrate another conversion to their side, I need to explain my love of my country and what led me to this point.
Although Brazil is truly amazing, my time there helped me to appreciate the advantages I enjoy in my home country. When my friends and host family would ask me how I afforded such an expensive trip, I explained to them how Duke paid the bill and gave me spending money on top of that. Amazed, Brazilians would explain that poor students in their country would never be able to travel to the U.S. to, say, study American culture at Duke. It is impossible for me to deny that despite all the flaws of the American economic system, few countries allow their poor students to enjoy elite education and travel to the far ends of the world. Along with this realization, I rediscovered my love of country music (Brazilians have never heard of the Dixie Chicks!) and pancakes with maple syrup (business students take note: Fortaleza, Brazil needs an all-night diner).
My love for travel and pancakes aside, Brazil also helped me to see even more clearly what is wrong with our own country. I lived on a land settlement for three weeks and saw a community I had never seen before in the U.S. The settlers lived and worked together while sharing resources, friendship and support. The current Brazilian government, while far from perfect, has often tried to support the landless movement and other struggles of the poor. To put this in perspective, what if farm workers in the U.S. were to demand their own land? Would our government give them a sympathetic ear? Would we?
Traveling in Spain, Morocco, Egypt and Italy this summer with Duke in the Mediterranean, I developed an even greater appreciation for the U.S., along with an equally as deep understanding of its flaws. When Simon and Garfunkel played at the Coliseum and explained a song was about growing up in America, I found myself cheering wildly to the confusion of the Italians around me. I missed home. The almost completely male café fronts of Morocco and Egypt made me miss the co-ed nature of almost all public spaces in the U.S. I did not like the endless lines for everything from trains to banks, and I missed that good ol’ American rule: “The customer is always right.”
Still, the large cities of Spain and Italy lacked the poverty that has a stranglehold in many of our own cities. Other people wait around a lot more than we do, but they are also more patient and forgiving. Old Italian ladies catch up with each other as they wait at the bank and even in Madrid the Spanish take their time at lunch and don’t seem to scurry from place to place the way we do in the United States.
Being in North Africa also helped me to understand the tolerance and openness of Islam, especially in history but even in the 20th century. The people often portrayed as fanatical and hateful were the same people who gave sanctuary to Jews after their expulsion from Granada, Spain by Castillian Christians in 1492. During the Holocaust, Moroccans defied the wishes of the French and gave asylum to their Jewish brothers and sisters.
No people can be identified solely by a few groups or one atrocious act. Not Muslims. Not Israelis. And not the United States, either. “Bridget Newman: Patriot.”
Never thought ya’d see the day, did ya?
Bridget Newman is a Trinity senior.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.