When I studied abroad, I didn’t just learn about a new culture, but I also reflected a lot on my own country, the United States. In certain ways I felt more negatively about my home country, and in other ways I learned that many unique aspects make it an amazing place to live.
The primary areas that I’ve reflected on regarding the United States in comparison to other countries are:
- Treatment of the environment
- Bureaucratic processes
- Health systems
- Friends and family
In Germany and Spain they drive smaller cars, but this is partly because gasoline is very expensive in Europe. Isn’t it wonderful for Americans to have the freedom to drive in the car of their choice? I don’t support driving large cars and trucks, and I think it’s important that the United States’ government educate its people better about protecting the environment and give incentives for driving more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles (cars).
I found that many Germans were envious of Americans’ ability to drive Ford F-150s and Mustangs. In few countries is it financially easy to do this.
Most non-Americans love the idea of doing a road trip (a journey of a long distance by car) <trailer for road trip/picture) across the United States. This is a primarily American idea, because in other countries traveling over a long distance is very expensive because of the gas.
In Europe I found that distances seemed further for this reason. A six-hour drive for me isn’t very long because my University is six hours from my hometown, so I’m used to it. This would be like taking a road trip across Germany, which none of my German friends had done.
Freedom to travel by car is something I definitely value in the United States.
In Spain and Brazil, bureaucratic processes are especially slow. I can’t even explain (it is unbelievable) how frustrating this has been for me in Brazil. Every time I need to do a process with the government I end up wasting a lot of time and money because things aren’t explained well the first time. Internet sites rarely have translations in English, and when they do, they aren’t very good (although in the U.S. you are lucky find sites translated in Spanish or French, and you’d never find Portuguese).
Also, in Spain and Brazil there are always strikes (grievances) occurring and they slow down everything. Luckily in the U.S. these rarely occur, and when they do they don’t affect productivity.
In Brazil, there is much more poverty than in the U.S. and the police is less organized. Because of this, it is not as safe as in the United States, Spain, and Germany. This doesn’t mean that you will be robbed here; most of my Brazilian friends luckily never have been. But you have to take precautions. You can’t show off your wealth walking around in many areas, and you can’t go walking alone at night. I’ve never lived anywhere before where I’ve had to worry about my safety. It’s an adjustment that I’ve had to make living here, and now that I’m used to it, it doesn’t bother me. But I certainly won’t take the ability to walk around any time of day or night alone for granted (fail to appreciate something that is common or familiar) again.
The U.S. is often criticized for not having public health. And although I believe that everyone should have access to health care, when I’ve required it in Germany, Spain and Brazil, I’ve found it extremely slow and inefficient. My friends in these countries were often unwilling to go to the doctor for any problem less than an emergency because the quality of care is low. The doctors try to get patients in and out as quickly as possible. In the United States we have to pay for medical insurance and for care, but you never wait long at the clinic and you get quality care. I think the best would be to have both options – public healthcare for those that can’t afford insurance and private for those who are willing to pay for it. But I certainly appreciate the quality of care that I receive in the United States when I am in need of a doctor.
Being so far away from my family has made me appreciate them so much more. I’ve always been close to my family, but I think I took them for granted before studying abroad.
I always make new friends abroad, but no one can replace my Mom, Dad and brother.
There is nothing like my mom’s cooking when I come home, going for hikes with my dad and our dogs, and no relationship can match that which one has with his siblings.
They always wish that I were closer to home, but they encourage what makes me happy. Without my family’s endless support, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
There are other things that I could discuss, but I think you get the point. Although there are still changes that are necessary in the United States, I appreciate my country much more than I did before studying abroad.
An exchange experience will help you to reflect on life in your home country. You’ll learn that your country is no better than any other, and that the people of your nation are not superior or inferior to any others, but rather are equal. There are great things about your culture, but other cultures and customs are interesting and amazing, too.
You won’t regret participating in an intercultural exchange, I promise you that.
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