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Study Abroad Belgium: Being the ‘All-American Girl’

I’ve never really been proud of being an American before. Sure we have a good political foundation, decent education system, and praise the good Lord for NASCAR, but I’ve never really been proud of our ignorance, arrogance, and overall attitude toward the rest of the world. But then again, I’m also a small-town girl and always have been. So maybe I've had tunnel vision about what being American really is. But surprisingly enough, being here has made me own up to the traditions and culture that raised me and taught me everything I know.

This week I was hit with two separate reality checks:

1. I was sitting in class, listening to my professor talk about the American mission to the moon as a metaphor for his lesson. Being the only American in the class, he expected me to know the facts on Neil Armstrong’s trip to the moon – and I damn well should have known, too. But when he quizzed me on the event, including the name of the other astronaut who was with Armstrong (mind you it's Buzz Aldrin), I had absolutely no idea the answer! I was so embarrassed. And despite my obvious embarrassment, he continued to quiz me AGAIN on the assassination of JFK, something I really should know the details of but to be honest I really don’t. After that, I realized that I completely contribute to the ‘ignorant American’ characteristic I was always so critical of.

2. The second reality check hit me late on a Saturday night. I was talking to a Belgian guy at a bar, discussing normal things like movies, music, what it was like to live in Belgium, and vice versa in America. After I described myself and my interests, he just looked at me and said, “You’re just a typical all-American girl, aren’t you?” I’m still not sure why, but that made me step back a little bit and look into who I was and what qualities make me ‘American’. And now I understand.

Being American isn’t about your love for the second amendment, or your opinions on the Middle East, or how much you DON’T know about the assassination of JFK. Being American is about how you interact with people, your sense of humor, your family traditions, national traditions, your idea of beauty, your idea of fun, how you show people love, and so on.

I am American because I love rowdy Saturday football games. I love my cowboy boots and drinking PBR (even though Belgian beer is so much better). I love breaking the “don’t drink until you’re 21” rule, and shooting guns with my family on Christmas Eve. I love NASCAR, and Dale Jr., and country music too. I love that Americans are diverse, and are proud to be American, even if other countries are better than we are. These are things I never truly realized until I came here and experienced how other people celebrate their own nationality. This realization almost made me a little homesick for things I never thought I would miss, too. (Like Bojangles to cure a good hangover, for example.)

So, here's a big 'cheers' to being an American--something I will now embrace, rather than run away from. 

All my love,

Hillary

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