Like most undergraduates, a large portion of my time spent here at Portland State has been focused on the development of self: who I am, who I want to be, what I believe and how I think.
For the most part, my sense of self has changed throughout my undergraduate career. I’ve learned to leave certain perceived conceptions about myself in the dust and embrace others. One that I initially left behind was an invested importance in my national identity and heritage.
I was the sort of person in high school who thought America was the best thing since sliced bread and that being American gave a person some sense of importance and dignity in the world.
As I began my freshman year of college and dove deep into the social sciences, I found myself aligning more with my appreciation for certain types of literature, philosophical schools and my love for Prince’s album Purple Rain more than my national heritage and culture.
As a foreign language major, I spend a large portion of my time learning how to interact with cultures that are not my own. I’ve begun to see my citizenship as an arbitrary coincidence that has no real weight aside from who issues my passport.
After all, America was the cause of a lot of problems in the world; we were a bunch of ignorant, gun toting, imperialist xenophobes who cared more about Starbucks and material wealth than anything else.
However, my perspective changed while I was living in Russia this past summer.
Before leaving for Russia, I was told to be careful about whom I told my nationality to. We were taught how to blend in while on Russian public transportation and to avoid doing things that would be perceived as being too American, which would make us stand out.
I felt as though I was entering into some pseudo-Cold War reality where I might be followed everywhere I went and would be silenced for trying to talk about the western world.
It was only after about two weeks I realized that despite the picture both the Russian and U.S. media were painting, everyday people not only had minimal hostility toward the U.S. but were overjoyed that I was spending time in their country.
People bought me drinks and asked me questions, and were eager to share their culture with me and for me to share America with them.
It was during these conversations that I found a new love and appreciation for my country, history and culture that I hadn’t had since I was in high school.
I found that I could not escape my American identity. No matter where I went, or who I talked to, the second I mentioned I was an American, that was what stuck.
However, I began to be OK with that. Slowly and surely, while discussing the themes of Steinbeck novels and dissecting CCR lyrics with my Russian acquaintances, I came to realize that not only did I think differently from them because I was an American, but there was a certain spirit found in American literature, history, music and culture that could not be replicated on the vast steppes of Russia.
It was in Russia that I realized being American is nothing to be ashamed of and that those who try to delude themselves into thinking it’s not important to their identity and manner of thinking are doing themselves a great disservice.
In fact, even amidst global conflict and struggles regarding America’s role in the world today, the vast majority of people in other countries have a favorable view of the U.S.
According to the Pew Research Center on Global Attitudes and Trends, in 2014 the general median of the entire world showed 65 percent of foreign respondents viewed America favorably.
Countries in Asia, Africa and Europe have overwhelmingly favorable views of the United States, with only the Middle East harboring ill sentiments.
In 2015, the countries who have the least favorable views of the U.S. are Jordan at 83 percent unfavorable, Russia (81 percent), Palestine (70 percent), Pakistan (62 percent), Lebanon (60 percent) and Turkey (58 percent).
Interestingly enough, the countries that see the U.S. most favorably are the Philippines (92 percent), Ghana (89 percent), Kenya (84 percent), South Korea (84 percent), Italy (83 percent), Israel (81 percent) and Ethiopia (81 percent).
Having been in a country that has the second worst view of U.S. in the world, I can say with confidence that being an American is nothing to be ashamed of.
The American spirit is not found in a McDonald’s or on an iPhone, it’s something found in our musical traditions, the great novels of the 20th century, our films, our complex history, our language and our customs.
It’s OK to appreciate the culture of other nations, but not at the expense of turning one’s back on their culture and heritage. Living in another country taught me that and this past Fourth of July, as I was running through a Russian park with sparklers singing “God Bless America,” I was never happier to be an American.