The United States is such a big country that there are many lifetimes worth of history and culture within the various regions. Some parts of the country say “freeway,” others say “highway.” New England has a reputation for having a very fast paced lifestyle, while the West Coast is thought to be more relaxed and leisurely, compared to the South where there’s a more of a polite hospitable culture. We may as well be a bunch of separate countries.
Countries abroad pick on each other too. The Danish and Swedes have a rivalry. The Germans and Swiss can’t understand each other’s dialects, and Japan personalized countries stereotypes and history within the television show Hetalia. Europeans love to pick on Americans for our lack of geographical skills and our inability to tell the difference between an Irish and a Scottish accent. Asians and Asian-Americans point out general cultural insensitivity over and over again for failing to recognize someone born in America versus someone from countries like Korea, Thaiwan, China, Japan or the Philippines.
Since this is American Adventures Month, it’s necessary to recognize our own ideas about our country and how we interact with people abroad. While our education gives us knowledge for how to hopefully get a job and contribute to society, (focusing less on languages,) the best way to learn is through experiencing other types of environments, both in the United States and abroad. There are infinite experiences out there that we know nothing about. Fortunately, AEI is lucky to hear from speakers who have had such a cultural experience.
People like Neal Petersen are great examples. Petersen overcame racial prejudice in apartheid South Africa. Wanting to be a sailor, he designed and built a yacht himself, and spent 9 months alone at sea through tumultuous weather, just for the opportunity to compete in yacht races amongst other sailors. His story, the embodiment of personal experience inspires people all over the world to turn baggage into a treasure chest.
Within our own country, we can learn a lot from Brian Unger,who hosted a television show, How the States Got Their Shapes. He studied the history of the United States. State by state, the show focused a little more about how the country formed, how each state came to be little by little from the original 13 colonies of the 1700s, to Hawaii joining the country, only becoming a state in 1959.
It is an adventure in itself listening to different accents and dialects across the country and the globe. It also leads to hilarious moments when Americans and English try to mimic each other. While not everyone needs to sail around the world, or could possibly know every piece of trivia about the states, a few miles or kilometers travel often leaves some impact.
Traveling gives one a richer experience beyond the borders of a school classroom. If we were to know everything through media and perceptions, we’d have a flat one-dimensional view of most of the world’s population, turning away interesting complex individuals and potential friends and spouses. Though a thorough trip takes some planning, take American Adventures month, or the last official month of summer vacation to visit someplace new.