Going Back, But Slightly Different

6 Jun

Last week during lunch Leo brought up something which I’ve often thought about throughout the last almost three years. He asked curiously, though without malicious intent, what will happen to me once I go back to the United States. More than anything, he was saying how he’d like to see how I act in my element, back where I come from in the country that I grew up in. After all of this time here in Buenos Aires, almost two years, I’m become Argentinized. I expect that things won’t work well, I love a good piece of meat, and of course, I reach for my mate more often than a cup of coffee. So Leo wanted to know what will become of me now that I’ve gone through so many changes and struggled so much to become more like a porteño. It’s a tough one to answer and you might not like the answer.

I sort of realized a long time ago, back before leaving Ecuador, that you eventually reach a point where you can’t simply go back to how things were before. You can’t just go home and assume that your friends are the same, that the same shows will be on TV, or that the town will look exactly the same. You go through untold changes when living abroad and can’t just assume that it’s one sided. But that goes without saying. So after so much time away from what I grew up in, could I still consider myself your typical American? The truth is I don’t think so. And would I want to go back to that if I could? In retrospect, probably not.

It’s not that I don’t like the United States, it’s not that at all. It’s my country of birth and I’ll always have it as my own. But I’m not typical anymore, not in any sense of the word. Maybe I never was, and that’s what got me interested in living abroad in the first place. I try to relay the fact that the States are made up of so many diverse and unique people that saying we are one thing is nearly impossible, yet you can’t deny a certain stereotype or two when it mocks you to your face, and whether it be loud and obnoxious in bars or lacking a general sense of history and geography, I’ve tried to counter those arguments to friends here by setting an example. But then a friend from back home will ask me how Mexico is, thinking they’re funny, and it kind of makes my stomach hurt to think I’m going to be heading back into that atmosphere.

Not all Americans are like that, and since I’m going to be studying a Masters in International Relations, the people I’ll soon meet will hopefully think the way I do, or if not at least give me something new to think about. Leo was wondering if I’ll miss having mate in the morning, but I think he was also saying that I’m currently a model citizen. Many Argentinians (among other people throughout the world) can’t stand most Americans, and it took a long time for them to trust me and let me in enough to admit this. I’m an exception for them, and he’s wondering if I’m going to go home and become the same kind of person that usually puts him off.

I already feel the difference and have for a long time. It’s not a sense of superiority over others back home who haven’t experienced what I have, but rather a sense of inferiority in that I belong to such a small portion of the population who “get it”. It’s almost useless in trying to relate it to someone who doesn’t have their own personal experience with it, but to at least attempt it I’ll need more words and more time to better understand it myself. I first need to go home and test the waters, see how I feel, and then decide how far gone I am. I’ll keep you advised.

8 Responses to “Going Back, But Slightly Different”

  1. The Travel Chica June 7, 2011 at 8:21 am #

    Even though I haven’t lived abroad for a long period of time and changed my lifestyle to fit the culture, I still like to think I am not a typical American 🙂

    • Jon June 7, 2011 at 11:34 pm #

      Thanks again for writing in! It’s kind of like I wrote in the post–I don’t really think you can easily say what is “typical” for us. We’re such a unique and diverse nation that it would always be contradicted. Yet I find certain characteristics tend to prevail more often than not. And no, you don’t have to live abroad to be “atypical” either. I hope I wasn’t sending out some kind of elitist message. That wasn’t the intention.

  2. Megan June 11, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

    Hey Jon!

    I had to write to you after reading ALL of your posts from Ecuador. I, too, will be a year-long WorldTeach volunteer in Ecuador starting this September! I, too, am from Boston. I’m a math teacher here. When I’m done with my travels, I, too, would like to get my Masters in International Relations! We’re quite a pair!

    I was trolling the internet for WorldTeach Ecuador blogs when I came upon yours. I read it from your entrance into Ecuador and your exit. It was fascinating! If I get ‘stationed’ in Cuenca, I’ll be thinking of you! Maybe you will let me write to you to gather helpful tips!

    • Jon June 12, 2011 at 6:59 pm #

      Hi Megan,

      Thanks for writing in and reading my posts! I’m glad you didn’t stop after the hijacking and could see that there was a happy ending. Where in Boston are you from? Do you have any idea if you’ll be on the coast or in the sierra yet? I think the posts I’ve put up, plus the articles I’d written will help you a lot in figuring things out.

      Let me know how the experience goes!


      • Passrider June 19, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

        While I haven’t lived abroad, I have traveled extensively. My work keeps me on the road about 3/4 of the time. As a result, I have quite a bit of time to compare varying cultures and lifestyles with those at home.

        I agree with Jon, the “typical” American usually doesn’t “get it” when it comes to understanding the world. Perhaps, this has come from generations of international isolation that the past few decades still haven’t fully erased. The US’ geographical position (at least that of the heartland, means that people can blissfully go about their business without caring what the latest international news is, social media notwithstanding.

        I due worry about the day, which I fear is fast approaching, when world events will catch up with those who are blissfully ignorant if world events. The dramatic events of the past decade can only teach us that we as Americans only hurt ourselves by not better understanding how the world thinks. The time for assuming everyone thinks like us is over.

  3. Jon June 19, 2011 at 8:30 pm #

    Thanks Passrider. You make a good point about the middle section of the U.S. which is isolated, and aside from border states, there isn’t much other cultural interaction. I too feel that it’s ignorant to avoid social and cultural education, and that in order for things to work smoothly, not only an an international scale, you need to be more aware of other societies.

  4. juan June 23, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

    “Many Argentinians (among other people throughout the world) can’t stand most Americans, and it took a long time for them to trust me and let me in enough to admit this. I’m an exception for them, and he’s wondering if I’m going to go home and become the same kind of person that usually puts him off”
    Mmm.. Interesting.. So basically, your Argentine friends think that most Americans are not nice people so when they meet a nice one, they class him/her as an exception.. What a convenient way to avoid coming to terms with their prejudice.. Also, I wonder what is the kind of person that ‘puts them off’.. since most Argentines have never been to the US or even met an American. The line of thinking you portray in your post, in my opinion, says a lot more about your friends than it does about Americans.. and not very pretty at that. It shows the bunch of resentful bigots they really are. Thank God they are your friends.. Being an Argentine myself and having lived here all my life, I can say with authority that Argentines have no right to talk about Americans like that. Actually, I’ve been to the US several times and find Americans to be on average much nicer people.. At least they don’t walk around with big chips on their shoulders all the time.. And as far as provincialism is concerned, my fellow contrymen win hands down.. The vast majority have never set foot in a foreign country or even talked to a foreigner, yet they have the audacity to bash other nations and go around telling everyone how everything Argentine is the best.. Next time your friends or any other Argentine talks badly of Americans, please tell them to go look themselves in the mirror 🙂

    • Jon June 26, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

      Hi Juan,

      Thanks for commenting on the post and reading. You make an interesting point about the exception. It doesn’t seem very fair to continuously be told that “You’re not like other Americans,” especially by people who don’t have much contact with others. However, in my case, a lot of my friends have either been to the United States or at my job, for example, have daily exposure to them because it’s a travel agency with American clients. That’s actually the worst part, because they see one range of Americans and think that everyone is that way.

      Still, I know what you mean about being provincial and labeling people without really knowing enough about them. It’s sort of a backhanded insult to hear that you’re OK, but everyone else from the U.S. isn’t. I try to look at things positively and think of it in a good light, otherwise I wouldn’t have stuck it out here for 2 years.

      Hope you continue to read the blog and comment.


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