It was not long after a group of American millennials arrived in Europe that we heard the expression for the first time, “America is not the center of the world”. “Well of course it’s not!” we responded the first, second, then third time we heard someone say this announcement in one way or another. This prompted us to ask, “How does the world see Americans?”
Let’s start with the basics. As a group of 9 people we represented 5 ethnicities, 3 countries, a range of socioeconomic statuses, and every level of experiences that has shaped us individually into who we are today. On paper we seemed like a pretty diverse group, right? The only thing we truly had in common was that we all live in the United States. So why was it that we were repeatedly reminded of the title that inspired this post?
Traveling to Austria and speaking with leaders that represented 5 continents and countless counties taught me many things, but this one in particular stood out:
We All Have The Opportunity To Become a Better World Citizen
In almost every conversation I had with a new representative from one of Earth’s 195 recognized countries, I assumed two things.
When initiating a conversation, I was forced to assume they could speak English as this is my only fluent language. If they couldn’t speak English, then the language barriers would be too high to communicate effectively.
When someone eventually asked, “Where are you from,” I would inadvertently blurt out “Oregon!” like they knew where that was...
Here’s the catch: Almost everyone I spoke to was fluent in English (typically as a second, third or fifth language) and often they knew exactly where Oregon was and were familiar enough to talk about our wine region. Do you know how silly this made me feel? Here is a quiz to create honest dialogue:
Did you know that “Sochi” existed before Russia hosted the Olympics?
Is Bologna in Austria, Switzerland, or Germany?
If asked in conversation about Thomas Jefferson’s purchase of 800,000 square miles that comprises a third of the United States, could you confidently say who sold it to the US?
(BTW, Trick question: Bologna is in Italy. To be honest, I am confident I could not have pointed out Austria on a map prior to visiting)
Spending three full days mingling with this group of people from across the globe taught me this: we all have the opportunity to become better world citizens. In a global community that is ever growing and becoming more connected on a daily basis, we have a responsibility to seek ways to become more familiar with our world geographically, culturally, and politically. As Americans, opening our minds to learn more than one language, familiarize ourselves with world history, and spending the time to become educated on topics that do not relate to our day-to-day opens up opportunities to have more meaningful conversations with others throughout our world.
As an individualistic culture, we love to be unique, independent, and self-sufficient. We use a temperature system (Fahrenheit) and measurement system (Imperial) that is used by less than 2.5% of the world. Our citizens are seen as people who pride themselves more on how hard they work and less on how well they live. Think about it: We use the expression “from America” or “I am an American” and unintentionally disregard the other 35 countries that reside in North, Central, and South America. It wasn’t until I traveled abroad in Central America that I discovered that a large portion of ‘American’ countries actually are offended when we use the term to just describe U.S. citizens.
This is exactly the value to traveling. Patriotism is a wonderful tool to feel a sense of pride. Yet, globalism in a collectivist world is the only mindset that may cause less people to remind Americans that we are not the center of the world. Traveling to Vienna and spending time with wonderful people from around the globe reminded me of this. Not only do we have the opportunity to become better global citizens in a highly connected world, we have the responsibility to do so.
So, start today. Right now. Go to google, translate this, and learn something new: Danke schön.