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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Finding Patriotism Abroad

    “”Whoa, I don’t want any trouble from you Americans and your guns,”” a drunken tourist said, backing away from us. “”I don’t like guns like you Americans do.””

    Taken aback by his unprovoked comments, we set our drinks down and started walking up the narrow cobblestone street of Segovia, Spain. We didn’t want any trouble.

    We had spent the summer evening in the streets with all the young people. We were students at the university, all of us Wildcats. When asked if we spoke English, we said yes. When asked if we were Americans, the response we received was unexpected.

    Studying abroad comes with some interesting surprises. As a student representing the United States, you quickly learn the stereotypes and perceptions of Americans and just as quickly want to change them.

    For the U.S., the value of students as ambassadors is undeniable. But on an individual level, I learned more about my country by being outside of it than I could have possibly understood on my own soil. I learned how to be an American.

    At 2:30 p.m. every day we had lunch, a three-to-four course event that left us flat on our backs attempting to allow our lungs adequate capacity.

    During lunch we watched the news, for the entirety of the meal. Broadcast news is exhausting in English. In Span

    Those colorful discussions in a foreign country added pride to my patriotism and hesitance to my criticisms.

    ish, it literally seems like the world is ending, every day.

    Anytime Bush was on the news our house mother would put her head in her hands and say, shaking her head: “”QuǸ horrible, quǸ horrible.””

    One of the first days, she was serving the ninth ladle of paella when she asked us if we liked “”Buth.”” My roommate and I looked at her and then at the paella, confused. Finally she pointed to the television and said, “”Buth, Buth, el presidente.”” On the television was President Bush.

    We both froze, unsure how to respond. Normally, I would have jumped at the opportunity. But for some reason I hesitated as she waited for our reply flailing her arms about over news clips of Bush. For fear that I could not explain myself in Spanish, I changed the subject.

    The Spanish people were remarkable and unbelievably helpful, but they sure liked to talk politics, a difficult and somewhat humorous task in another language.

    Over the next few weeks our Spanish improved enough that we were able to talk through the meal about politics, elections, the press and other world events.

    Those colorful discussions in a foreign country added pride to my patriotism and hesitance to my criticisms.

    It certainly wasn’t because I didn’t have any criticisms. It was that, for the first time, I stepped back and really thought about it, from both the perspective I have always known and from the new point from which I stood. In Spain, I learned how to listen.

    We talk about patriotism like it is a simple feeling that every American should have. I used to think that patriotism was flag-waving and fireworks, but that’s pride. True patriotism is questioning, discussing and starting a conversation about the politics, policies and decisions made by the government. That’s democracy.

    We were asked if we supported the troops in Iraq. Without hesitation, I said yes. Not because I approve of the war, but because I support the troops.

    Support is knowledge. It’s reading the newspapers from the U.S. and abroad. It’s asking questions and being aware of what is going on – that’s support. Blind approval is ignorance, as is blind criticism.

    Our host family wanted to talk about politics, they wanted to have a conversation about every detail, actually debate and discuss what was going on. What could possibly be more patriotic?

    Studying abroad has thus far been the most valuable part of my education.

    There is no way of knowing if we changed or even slightly altered anyone’s American stereotype, or if we enhanced anyone’s cultural awareness of the U.S.

    But we didn’t have any guns, and we didn’t want any trouble that night. We walked away; there was no violence. We stood above the stereotype.

    Chelsea Jo Simpson is a junior majoring in journalism and Spanish. She can be reached at

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