I remember in grade school we had to stand up, put our right hand on our heart, salute the flag and say the pledge of allegiance every single day. We looked up to the flag hanging near the chalkboard as our nation’s anthem echoed from the school’s loudspeaker and chanted the mantra of our great nation.
At school we were not only taught to be proud at the fact we were American, but grateful. While no one ever distinctly said it to my face, I was educated that America was the best country in the world.
After all, we won wars. We innovated and created. We were a nation of freedom, something that, to me, seemed rare and unreachable in many countries of the world.
This mindset was also fueled by my mother and aunt, both Vietnamese refugees. America gave them everything they have, and they were eternally grateful. Compared to war torn Vietnam, America was heaven.
Every time I turned on the TV or opened up a history book, I heard stories about immigrants and runaways that risked their lives just to make it here. People crossed borders and oceans just to live within our great nation. To many, America was known as the promised land.
So it was needless to say that, before I ever went abroad, I was educated with the American mindset that we were the best. That no country was greater than mine. That we were a world super power, and people were literally risking their lives to make it onto U.S. soil because it was that great here.
As a child and adolescent, It was hard for me to imagine the rest of the world–but a part of me subconsciously knew that, as I was taught, everywhere else must suck compared to the U.S.
Then, I went to Japan.
First, I was alarmed at how clean it was. There was no garbage anywhere.
Secondly, there were hardly any murder stories on TV. There were no shootings, rapes, or gang violence. I wasn’t afraid to walk around at night. I felt safe.
Health coverage was affordable and mandatory (compared to college, where I was uninsured all four years due to my dire financial situation). I was routinely given a physical every year, paid by my company, for the sole purpose of checking my health.
People helped each other and returned lost items. There was no pollution. The tap water was safe for drinking. I didn’t have to buy a car, because public transportation was so easy and affordable.
And then the realization hit me: this country takes better care of me than the United States.
America is not the best place in the world.
In terms of quality of life, safety, education and healthcare–we are not perfect. We are not the promised land.
I once told my Vietnamese auntie that my Japanese friend graduated from University in the states and had to go back to Japan.
“Oh the poor thing,” my aunt replied with pity in her voice. “She couldn’t find a way to stay in the United States. Of course she would want to, but when so many people want to live in the USA, it’s hard to secure a visa.”
“Actually, she is fine going back to Japan,” I replied defensively.
“Not everyone wants to immigrate to the USA.”
My aunt looked at me like I was crazy.
As I met more people from around the world, I began to learn more about other countries and how they operated–particularly those in England and Europe. Some of my best friends are British and Canadian, and stories about their home countries sounded just as good–if not better–than America. The UK has the world’s highest rated healthcare plan (NHS), public transportation, and a much lower crime rate. Germany has free education. France has affordable healthcare and stellar retirement. Northern European countries such as Denmark and Norway are always ranked as the best places to live overall in terms of quality of life.
Over time, the concepts that were pounded into my brain as a child began to melt away. I started to see the world in a different light. While I didn’t think America was the worst country in the world, I no longer thought the rest of the world was inferior to the United States.
Many of my Chinese friends still dream of immigrating to the United States. They always called me lucky for being American, and despite how much I complain I am still very grateful for everything this country has given me.
Still, if I were an immigrant and had to relocate, America would most definitely not be my first choice. England? Sure. Canada? Hell yeah. Australia? Bring on the sun.
But America? I don’t know.
The USA is a place replete with opportunity, that’s for sure, but only if you got what it takes. It’s a great place to excel as a businessman/woman and fully utilize our great nation’s capitalist economy and individualistic society. However, the greater majority doesn’t have the innate skill to invest, to make good decisions, to save for healthcare. Only a select few do. Those that can work the system well are turned into success stories–those that don’t, struggle. Badly.
America is a great place to get rich…. but it’s a terrible place to lead a mediocre life.
Finding Your Own Path
I have a half-French, half-Vietnamese cousin that lived in Vietnam as a child, spent his adolescent life in Paris and followed up his college graduation with years of traveling the world. When he reached middle age he returned to Paris upon his parent’s request, but he was miserable. He missed Vietnam.
So one day, he up and left Paris and moved to Vietnam. My Vietnamese relatives in France were horrified. My aunt is still appalled. Why on Earth would he leave France for a third world nation? To this day, my entire family is still stumped.
But I get it. I totally get why he moved to Vietnam.
As I traveled the world and lived in other countries, I realized that there is no best country. America is a great place to go if you have passion, determination, willpower and a dream for business or monetary success. Europe is a great place to go for stability, peace of mind and quality of life (especially since you’re forking over exorbitant taxes just for that purpose).
For some, the allure of adventure in Asia brings out the best in people. Some feel like the best one can get is in a hammock on the beaches of the Caribbean or Fiji. Others fall in love with the rich and traditional culture of Japan. Some expats have found that home is in more remote regions, such as Iceland, Greenland, or the cold north of Sweden and Finland.
So while I’m proud to be an American, just like I was taught to be when I was in elementary school, I now know that the United States necessarily the best.
It just all depends on what you consider ‘the best’ to be.
Do you think America has an ego when it comes to its global presence? Do you think America is (or would be), a good place to live?