Our students were asked to answer the following questions. Their unedited responses follow.
1) explain how your perspective toward the USA has changed as a result of this course. Be specific. Give an example or two of things you experienced that changed your perspective.
2) what has this course taught you about other countries and cultures and the way you view the world?
3) Looking at this course from a very personal perspective, how will you use what you gained from this course in your Elon career and in your future?
1. Explain how your perspective towards the USA has changed as a result of this course. Be specific with examples of experiences that have changed your perspective.
I have viewed the United States as a global country. The US is made up of many different cultures living together in a free democratic state that is built on the foundation of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. My perspective of the US of being global also includes the presence the US has outside of its domestic borders. The US is present in almost every international affair. This has not changed. What has changed for me is the notion that the US was the only governing body that was doing this. After listening to professionals from multiple countries I have learned that the EU is just as involved as the US.
However, because of the US military presence I still do believe the US has a greater presence in the world than the EU.
The European Union focuses on human and social rights, similar to the US. When we visited the exhibit “It’s our America too”, I saw for the first time the EU trying to get the point across that they want to be viewed as a force like the US. Most people in the world know about America for one reason or another, good or bad, the US is present. The EU is still very young but has gained political power very quickly.
The EU is made up of so many large powerful countries that there is no denying the influence they have on the world. By visiting this exhibit in Brussels it was solidified in my mind that the US does have another partner in the World. I always thought the future was going to be relations between the US and China, now I see that it will most certainly be the US and EU.
Another key experience that exemplified our future with the EU was the notion of language. In our schools we are taught that Spanish and Chinese are going to be the languages that will be needed when we make it to the professional world. I look at the countries here and not only do they learn other European languages, but almost all learn English, not Chinese. I would much rather learn some European language now then I would Chinese because of the close ties the US will have with the EU and their countries in the years to come. Yes, China is massive, they are growing economically and business with them will only hopefully get better. But the EU is there now and they are too big not to deal with.
This course has caused me to really appreciate the EU and how far they have come so quickly. I no longer view the US as the only world power.
I would add the EU to a list of governing bodies that have global issues high on their priorities. The US may always have to be the “world police force” but the EU has taken human rights under its wing and is changing the world through it.
2. What has this course taught you about other countries cultures and how you view the world?
I have been traveling all my life. I love to experience different cultures and try new things. This course has added to my experiences predominately by adding the Baltic cultures to what I once never knew.
I have learned very little in school about the soviet oppression that went on in the east. By traveling through the Baltic’s and seeing how different each were I was able to gauge how each was affected and how they have been able to grow since gaining their independence. When I have heard of the Baltic’s, I always grouped them together and did not fathom how unique each could be. It was remarkable to really see the different trajectory each state has taken since the soviets left.
When we flew into Latvia, my first post soviet state ever, I was taking it all in. Just looking around the runway I could see buildings that resembled those I fought in WWII video games. They were cold looking and certainly not aesthetic. As we got deeper into the city the buildings continued to change. We stood at a corner where there were three distinct types of buildings, one from the medieval times, one from soviet times and one modern building. This is where I came to understand Latvia. Latvians are fighting a forced change in culture they had to go through. Their people were free one day and the next told exactly how to live their lives. By standing in a place where you could see the old culture, the forced culture and the emergence of the new culture, I realized I had never seen such a thing before.
Another experience that has shaped my new views on the world was also created in Latvia. When we visited the EU Commission house I went up to the speaker afterwards to ask my question. I asked what Latvians would view as the most beneficial aspect of joining the EU. I didn’t want to ask about the Baltic’s because I knew by then that each country was different. However, he could not even group all Latvians together. He answered by saying the oldest generation gets the security they need, the middle generation gets the economic benefits of open markets and the youth benefit from being able to study anywhere within the EU. I can’t explain why, but I never thought that a country could not have one reason all could agree on.
The cultures we have come across in the Baltic states are some of the most unique I have ever experienced. Each generation has gone through a completely different life experience in their home country. Either they started free and had that taken away, were born into oppression and then given freedom and a lost security or they were born into complete freedom. Having all these people and their experiences living together is a remarkable formation of culture.
3. Looking at this course from a personal perspective, how will you use what you gained from this course in your Elon career and future?
This course as caused me to grow more as a student than anything else.
I am naturally a very quiet person who likes to take in information and process it before making any claims. I typically sit in classes very quiet taking notes and absorbing what teachers are saying.
Naturally, Business courses are somewhat perfect for a student like me. This course has developed my critical thinking skills more than any class I have taken before. By learning how to ask questions I was able to learn how to absorb information as well as form questions relevant to what is being discussed. I am extremely happy to walk away from this course with the ability to go back to Elon and use this skill in my future classes. I have done well with my old system of learning, but I truly believe that being comfortable with asking questions will undoubtedly benefit me in my future Elon career.
What I have also gained from this course is the understanding of the role the European Union has in the world today. I feel that many Americans are less educated about the EU than they should be. I have no doubt that when I talk to friends when I get back they will not be able to understand some of the positions I take and how I have come to my conclusions. For instance, I strongly believe that the EU is more important to the US then China is. If I were asked in December, I would most certainly have said without a doubt that China is more important. After understanding the size, strength and influence the EU has, I cannot disregard the facts. I see a stronger future between the US and the EU than I do with China, even after the very positive visit President Obama has with President HU. The European Union has the world’s largest economy (contrary to President Obama’s State of the Union Address, where he clearly did not recognize the EU as one entity). The US is right behind them and China is third, but they are still almost 1/5 the size of the US and 1/6 the size of the EU. I believe that by learning the strength of the EU now, I will be able to better understand what happens in the world’s future. When the EU gets more recognition for its size and strength, I know I won’t be surprised.
I have been fortunate to travel abroad a few times before this course, however, this has truly been the most significant experience abroad that has altered my views of the United States. As we sat in the terminal awaiting our departure for Brussels, I thought I was as prepared as I could be for the three and a half weeks that lay ahead of me. Yet, it was this ignorance that got the best of me the moment we landed. After arriving Brussels, I thought it would be another easy stay in another French speaking country, but that wasn’t the case.
The “It’s Our America, Too” exhibition was the first thing that opened my eyes to a whole new perspective of the United States. I began to question my opinions and beliefs about America when we first met our tour guide. He presented us with the question, “What does America mean to you?” As we progressed through the exhibit, I felt that our answers to his initial question were being ripped apart. American history in the eyes of a European is far, far different from every single history class I took throughout all my years at school. I felt that taking AP US History as a junior in high school was a joke, after walking through this exhibit. The perspective that an American student holds about America is the one his or her history teachers present years and years of information. It is all molded into textbooks and curriculums that are mandated by the state and by the government. I feel very lucky to have seen a different side of America’s history; I no longer feel that my outlook on the development of our nation is limited to a textbook.
It’s funny how when friends and family would ask where I would be studying this January, that only a few knew where and what the Baltic States were. But on the flip side, if you ask anyone from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia about the United States, they could probably rattle off more information that your average American could. While we studied in Lithuania, we were privileged enough to meet two Belarusians, a student and professor from the EHU. Listening to their stories about oppression of their own beliefs and living their lives day to day under constant observation was amazing. I could not bear to even imagine how they are able to live their everyday lives in such an oppressive and limited manner. I have never felt so truly blessed to live in a place that represents more freedom that I could have ever known.
Finally, looking back at all our experience overseas during this course, the hockey game in which we attended in Riga, Latvia, changed my perspective for the United States in a more positive way. This hockey game really reinforced the fact that the United States has an incredible influence on the rest of world, as far as Eastern Europe. American culture was infused within this KHL game, where fans wore jerseys and scarves, drank beers and even screamed the same chants, but translated into Latvian. American music even blasted from speakers during face offs and time outs. From this one game I can now view the US differently, for even though the US as a country has had major downfalls and has failed in multiple ways, countries around the world still look to us as a role model.
After partaking in this course about the European Union, I have learned a lot about a number amount of countries as well as their cultures. Although it was not possible for me to learn everything about each individual country in such a small time frame, I do feel that I have gained a lot of information and am fortunate to have come home with new perspectives and knowledge. The knowledge I gained from this trip was extremely significant in the way that I have shaped my opinions and views on these five countries, especially as an American.
Travelling to each of these different European countries, I was able to experience not on their true culture by the way of food, beverages, sense of style and everyday life, but I was also noticing a significant amount American influence. The most obvious bit of American culture that had filtered its way across the Atlantic was all the American music that overwhelmed subway stations, restaurants, bars and even MTV. But, the Americanism didn’t stop there; vendors sold collegiate sweatshirts, much similar to the once university book stores sell, New York Yankees hats and other popular American sports teams, I even saw someone wearing a Charlotte Hornet’s jacket while we were in Bologna, Italy.
Moving on to the Baltic countries, it was very interesting to learn about the occupation of both the Germans and the Soviets, and how they dealt with the oppression they faced day to day. After such traumatic experiences of both occupations, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia still look to the United States as the answer. I learned that these people who live in the Baltic States are such amazingly strong people who have put so much of their faith into the United States, even after President Roosevelt practically handed the Russians their countries. I am amazed to have met such strong-willed people within this region.
Looking back on my experience in Brussels, I have been fortunate enough to learn about a completely new, innovative system of government. The ability to form an effective, structured and efficient government for twenty seven individual countries is remarkable. This course has taught me how other countries have overcome so much bad in such little time in order to progress as a stronger, more powerful nation. For example, I learned that in comparison to the United States, the European Union is a peaceful network of nations, whom choose to partake in advancing its member states without aggravating others. Next, I learned how the EU countries have been able to overcome the obsessive sense of nationalism and work together for a common ‘Europe’.
Finally, I learned how truly corrupt individual governments within the EU are. I feel that both Italy and Belarus both have corrupted governments. Firstly, Belarus, only weeks ago, experienced a rigged election, leaving many outraged, however, nothing effective has occurred as a result. Next, the entire southern part of Italy remains corrupted by the Mafia, while Berlusconi has yet to prove himself an honest leader. The most shocking part about corruption I learned is how these other countries have come to accept it.
This course has affected me on a very personal level; it had the ability to change my perspective on Europe, the United States and the rest of the world. Now that I am home and in the process or returning back to Elon, it is vital that I take all that I have learned from this course and allow it to help shape my experiences in the future. In terms of my Elon career, I plan to use this course as a model for new experiences and exploring new areas of study. As a Sport and Event Management major, I hope that I can now broaden my focus of study to perhaps a larger, maybe even international level after this course. It has provided me with some knowledge of how other countries function in terms of management and recreation. I hope that I can continue on my path as a Sport and Even Management major, but welcome broader areas of focus to study by taking another Political Science class dealing with more international relations between the United States and the rest of the world. Also at Elon, I plan to take everything on with a more open mind. This course has reinforced the lesson that I cannot always expect everything to turn out as I expect it to. I think that this is vital for me to incorporate in every choice I make during the rest of my time spent at Elon, not only in an academic sense but socially, as well. I may have perceived notions about certain things, but going abroad has proven that it is ignorant for me to assume I know everything before experiencing it. After this experience, I truly hope that I will continue to travel and take more courses abroad during Winter Term. Unfortunately, I do not feel that I would want to study abroad for an entire semester, however, I would very much love to experience another course or two outside of the United States. What I can take away from this course is a successful, cultural and academic experience, in which I hope to repeat while at Elon. In terms of my future after graduation, I believe that I will take away everything I gained from this experience abroad and continue to apply it to life after college. I plan to take my views of the world that I have been able to determine from this course with me to the “real world” when looking for jobs and just as a citizen. It’s important for me to remember that there are many different ways to experience life, whether it is more or less fortunate than what I have experienced. I also hope to take away with me into my future, the memories and relationships that this course has fostered, with both students and professors. I feel privileged to have been a part of such an important course, learning about people as well as the new countries. I hope that the respect and the knowledge I gained throughout this course will stay with me throughout my life, and applied to my outlook and views on not only life in America, but the lives of others.
1) Explain how your perspective towards the United States has changed as a result of this course. Be specific and use examples.
In looking back on the experiences that I have had on this course, I can pinpoint two specific characteristics of the European Union that have changed my perspective towards my homeland. The first is the amazing resiliency of the people of the EU in contrast to many people in the United States. On this trip I have learned about people who have survived and moved forward from some horrible things. Starting in Latvia, we toured the former Jewish area of Riga and saw the horrible living conditions and the persecution and killing of the Jews there. As we walked through the Rumbala forest, we were standing in the exact place where thousands of people were murdered for their ethnicity or religion. Then later in Lithuania, we toured the KGB prison where people who were merely suspected of a minor infraction were brutally tortured and killed. Even more current were the stories we heard from the Belarusian professor, who expects to be imprisoned for expressing himself politically. Yet, despite all this hardship, the people of these countries are still thriving and moving forward. The Baltic countries have risen above former Soviet control to become EU members and work towards the goals of the Union. In contrast, many Americans are so used to freedom of religion and freedom of speech that we often take them for granted. I wonder whether we would have the courage that these people have had to speak up about what we believe in no matter what the consequences would be.
The second characteristic of the United States that has changed my perspective is our apparent inability to accommodate diversity. Upon my arrival in Belgium, my first foreign country ever, I immediately noticed that there was a language barrier, differences in fashion, and very apparent differences in social etiquette. Although we were most definitely the foreigners, everyone tried their absolute best to treat us with respect, from helping us choose food to order from the menu to listening and responding to my broken French. As we moved to different countries, I found that even more people spoke perfect English. During one of our group dinners in Italy, a waitress verbally translated every item on a long menu into English for us. Even our taxi drivers tried to speak to us in English. We as American tourists have it so easy here because people try their best to speak our language. However, I can think of so many instances in American when service workers did not have the slightest respect for foreign visitors who were unfamiliar with American culture and language. I cannot imagine seeing a waitress in the United States attempt to translate a menu into Spanish or Korean for a tourist or even having any ability to do so. When faced with the same situation, many Americans would just speak louder and get frustrated. My perspective on my country has definitely changed when I think about how inflexible people in the United States would be toward the citizens of the very countries that I have called home for the past three weeks.
2) What has this course taught you about other countries and cultures and the way you view the world. Be specific.
In retrospect, it is hard for me to even remember what my life was like before this trip. My view of the world was so limited and media-oriented. In my twenty one years, I had previously only left the east coast once and certainly never even owned a passport. I would occasionally watch the news when my parents or boyfriend had it on. However, I rarely kept up with life in the rest of the world. I viewed the rest of the world as a distant presence that I could not understand or worry about. Now, I can proudly say that I have visited fifteen cities and seven countries in a little over three weeks. I have gone from being a sheltered young American to a seasoned international traveler.
During my transformation on this trip, I learned about the lives of many Europeans during the fall of the Soviet Union, which happened during my own lifetime. In the Baltic countries, I saw the apartment buildings that looked like prisons where many people my age have grown up. I saw the prison in Lithuania, where people were being tortured during the early years of my childhood. Before this course, I remained blissfully unaware of the hardship that international members of my generation were facing. I imagined that torture and murder were only happening in rural Africa. Not even in my history courses in high school was I taught about these parts of the world, or even the Soviet Union. My entire view of the world has changed, and I feel so extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to witness the experiences of people near my age all over Europe.
Through this course, I have also learned how much I still need to learn before becoming a true global citizen. When speaking to students at some of the universities and organizations that we visited, I felt so uneducated. I only speak one language, with a little bit of French thrown in, and I have barely left the region I have grown up in. In contrast, Vitali, the Estonian student that we met, could speak at least four or five languages and had been to almost every country we had asked him about. In addition, he knew about the political atmosphere in America and the rest of the countries in the EU. Before speaking with a student like Vitali, I would have considered myself to be a rather bright student, always excelling in classes and internships. However, the more people here I talked to, the more I learned that I have so far to go to be truly educated. In the United States, I feel that we view education as a hurdle to the rest of our lives. However, in Europe, people view education as a continuous process throughout their lives. The people I have met and the places I have been on this trip have taught me that my view of the world was so narrow and ethnocentric. Now, I have “caught the bug” and cannot wait to learn more.
3) Looking at this course from a very personal perspective, how will you use what you gained from this course in your Elon career and in your future? Be specific.
In this course I have gained a different perspective on myself, my country, and the world around me. I can truly say that I will return to Elon as a changed person. Although my remaining time at Elon is limited, I know that my final semester of my college career will be impacted by what I have gained on this trip. In the most obvious of ways, I am now able to join the 70% of Elon students who study abroad and convince the others that they should go, too! I hope to have the opportunity to tell other students about this trip and encourage them to go outside their comfort zones and visit places that might not seem as glamorous. The more we go outside the typical tourist activities, the more there is to learn.
As my Elon career ends, I know that this trip will continue to impact me. As Dr. Morgan said, people will see us as the most sophisticated students they know. I expect that the things that we have seen on this trip will be evident in the way I begin my professional career. As I begin to work for one of the world’s largest international companies in my new job at IBM, I know that I will be able to better interact with others and represent the corporation with the sophistication and grace of a world traveler. I will be able to say that I have been inside the Court of Justice for one of the largest superpowers of the world and that I have seen the place where Lithuania became a country free from the Soviets. I have stood in places where Christopher Columbus and Caesar Augustus once stood. I have spent time visiting the world’s largest art collection. All of these things bring me one step closer to being a global citizen.
Something that I think most people don’t think of when they travel the world is how their analytical skills will improve as a result. I think that even when I am not interacting directly with people, my experience on this trip will improve the way that I see things through other peoples’ eyes. Because I had been to some of the most interesting places in the world, I will be able to look at my tasks at a different angle and through someone else’s point of view. This is a skill that only comes from witnessing a life different than your own. I am confident that these skills will help me to excel as an accountant and consultant in my life outside of Elon. Even more so, I will have a life that is richer in friendships and experiences because I will be better able to appreciate and communicate with people who are different from me.
How has my perspective changed on the United States?
After being abroad for a month, pushing my boundaries, and experiencing another side of life, my perception of the United States has changed from the land of freedom and equal opportunity to one that is difficult to put into words.
My time across the pond has taught me that even though the United States is made up of an ever increasing number of different nationalities and cultures, we as Americans and as a country do not always make it easy for outsiders and immigrants to live, work, or even communicate us. The first example that comes to mind is the classic McDonald’s case. Abroad, as we have mentioned multiple times, McDonald’s workers speak multiple languages and are some of the easiest people to converse with because of their language background. I know for a fact that if someone walked into a McDonald’s located within ten miles of my house and did not speak English; it could be one of the most difficult and frustrating experiences of their life.
Another example that comes to mind is one that someone brought up at the beginning of this trip when an airline worker in the United States was being yelled at by someone who did not speak English because everyone in airports in Europe speak multiple languages and that is rarely the case in American airports.
My point is that because of the language barrier and the attitude that many American citizens have towards learning a global language, the United States is not as accepting or open to working with immigrants and foreigners as they are with us. It is not as easy to live in the United States if you do not speak the native language as it is for Americans to live abroad if they don’t speak the native language.
A second perception of mine that has changed is the attitude towards the higher drinking age in the United States as opposed to the rest of the world. What is surprising is that during all of my time abroad, which included attending two sporting events; I had only seen one person that I would consider inebriated. This has shown that even though the drinking age is lower, Europeans simply view having a drink as something to use to relax or to have a discussion over rather than drinking in excess to get drunk. This comes as a stark reality to me especially since drinking among students is viewed so differently in the United States. It is an added element to being social in places such as Brussels and not a requirement to having a good time. I guess this is why a lot of European students my age view Americans as immature towards drinking and being social.
While my time overseas has changed my perspective on the United States, I hope that as I return to Elon, I will not forget my new attitudes and be sucked back into the over whelming views and consensus of the population.
What has the rest of the world taught me about other countries and cultures and the way I view the world?
The first thing this course has taught me about the world is the fact that the globe as a whole is growing smaller and smaller by the day. People travel from all over the globe and from all across Europe to different countries every day to live, work, and visit other people. A perfect example of the constant daily traveling between countries is in Luxembourg where thousands of people travel to and from the city to work. These Europeans live and work in the surrounding cities and countries and at times cross multiple borders without having to show their passport to a border patrol agent.
We can no longer simply attribute the shrinking of the world to increasing improvements in technology. We must now also give credit to the European Union and the Schengen zone for bringing countries the countries of Europe and Europeans closer together. Without the European Union and their foresight to unite Europe, traveling and working in a country such as Luxembourg would be much more difficult.
A second fact that I have learned through this course is that the Cold War is still very evident and very real for many countries, especially those that border Russia. For Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, the Cold War is something that they must deal with every day. Those countries must also live with the constant fear that Russia could invade again and try and reclaim the territories that it lost after the fall of the Soviet Union twenty years ago.
Having come from the United States and in a sense defeated the Russians in the Cold War, I had not learned about what the repercussions were for the rest of the world. It is now very clear to me that the Baltic States are still with a clear and present danger, pardon the pun. The threat of Russia to not only the Baltic States, but to the rest of Europe as a whole is still alive and well. Because of this, I now understand why it was so important for Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia to join the Union and thus create a border between Russia and the rest of Eastern Europe.
Another fact that I realized about the rest world during my travels is that they are much more adaptive to change and much more resilient to tragedy that the United States is. What I mean by this is that there are terrorist attacks and bombing and tragedies that occur every day across Europe and every day, Europeans get up and go about their daily business living with that danger. But when someone attacks the United States, everything stops and it seems as if the world is against us.
This course has taught me that the best way to gain a perspective about another country or the rest of the world is to become part of the rest of the world and go from there
Looking at this course from a personal perspective, how will I use what I gained from this course in my Elon career and in my future?
All of my life I have never been a huge fan of change. I know what I like and that is really all I need. Up until this trip, I had never been to Europe or really knew anything more than the fact that it was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and that they had free health care. I had never been away from home for more than a week, except for when I went away to college, or been to a place where I could not speak the native language or speak enough of it to get by if I needed to. Up until this course, there had been every few times where I had been completely and totally out of my comfort zone.
Through all of the constant moving, traveling, early mornings, late nights, long marches, and intense discussion, this course has transformed me from just a tourist or a vacationer to an experienced traveler. By this I mean that I have discovered the ability to live and adapt to life on the road and to be able to deal with difficult situations when I am being pushed to my limits. It is this new ability of mine to be a “road warrior” that I will take with me after college and into my business career. I will use the skills and knowledge that I have developed to be able to do more with less and succeed in environments that are unfamiliar to me.
This course has also made me a much more cultured person. My eyes have been opened to the rest of the world and how everything has a cause and effect relationship no matter where it happens in the world. I have also realized that there are other opportunities for employment outside of the United States. Now I will not be as timid or opposed to the idea of living and working abroad, which with the way the economy is, might be a better idea than working in the United States.
As for my Elon career, I hope that my time abroad and all of the knowledge that I have gained does not separate me from my friends. I know though that I will be able to apply my knew found cultural and global knowledge as well as all of my experiences abroad, to my classes and hopefully bring a more global perspective to the topics being discussed and not just focus on the domestic affects of what I am learning. I also know that I will not be as adverse to attending cultural events or talking with foreign students because I will now be able to connect more with them.
While the dust continues to settle on my experiences and time abroad, I hope that I will still be able to learn and grow from them well after my time at Elon has come to an end.
I have traveled more than most people my age have. This is trip was not my first time outside of the United States, because of that I have had experience learning what others think of my country and what it stands for. I thought I had a solid perspective on what the ‘out-there’ view is. What I didn’t realize was that I had only interacted with people not from the United States in a social non-confrontational way. There were many points during this trip that I was able to glean new ideas about my country and what it means to be from such a place by asking the harder questions. In the United States students are generally taught that we have the best form of government and the best nation on earth. We are great in many ways but it is hard to hear someone say we are not and have the ability to back their statement up. At that point we can’t just say they are wrong, we have to move past our ethnocentrism and really listen. Starting on our first day of the trip we went to the European Parliament building and met with and employee. After showing us around we discussed what it meant for her to be part of the European Union system and see it working every day. She was extremely proud. The government she worked for was best and she saw many flaws in our system and how our nation had and does react to issues around the world. It’s hard to accept but seeing it from her side I realized on certain points she was right. We, as a nation, cannot ride our mighty horse and call ourselves great when everyone is watching us and not expect to be judged for what we do. This is a reality I later felt when I was taking part in the ‘It’s Our America Too’ tour. Our tour guide did not like how the United States had acted and was not afraid to let us know it. The whole tour it felt as if I were specifically being called out for America’s faults. I know he wasn’t singling me out but was simply letting us know what he felt about our country. In the end though I represent my nation and have to deal with its actions now and in the past. They are my history and the world around me sees me as America’s representative when I meet them. When the cards are laid out I am proud to be an American and from my country but am still shamed at certain points by the greater population of citizens ignorance about the world around them and how I have to deal with it when I am abroad. Citizens of other countries know more about my country then many of my fellow citizens do. That is terrifying and exuberantly ironic. We are the ‘so called’ greatest; strongest, nation in the world made up of the most ignorant worldly citizens I have encountered. This simply must change.
2. I firmly believe that traveling, whether it’s the next town over or directly across the globe from where you are, will change your perspective and teach you something grand. This is one of the reasons I keep traveling and yearn for it the moment I find myself back in a familiar place like North Carolina or Wyoming. I chose the European Union: state of Europe Winter Term specifically because I would be going somewhere I haven’t been before and it would be extremely different. I wanted the unfamiliar, the fear, the success, the absolute wonder and sense of truly living that goes hand in hand with travelling to an offbeat destination such as the Baltic’s. I want to say that every interaction I had while abroad showed me a different aspect of culture while in Europe. I know it to be true but I can’t leave it at that. Nothing is gained by knowing this; I might not have even said I went anywhere. Thus, I am forced to pinpoint very small but amazing moments from my trip. The effect the previous regime known as the USSR has had within the Baltic’s startled me. Being the loudest one in a bar while whispering was always awkward. Hearing scattered clapping falling into unison at the opera bewildered me and forced me to realize how real ad overpowering the USSR had been and its lingering mentality still entrenched in Baltic and eastern European society. Other instances that were powerful were when people stated things that were not pro-American. As always when abroad I am reminded that others do not like some of the things my nation has done and stands for. This is extremely important to learn and remember. It’s a hard fact to accept but once realized holds astounding meaning. During my travels through Europe I met many people, ate very different foods, and had distinctive experiences in every country. Everything down to the simple act of buying espresso at an Italian bar to meeting a man who is most likely in a Belorussian jail have changed my outlook on other countries and cultures. This change is why I travel and do it again and again.
3. Learning about the USSR regime and the fact that most Americans know what they did during their time in power has made me extremely concerned. If thousands of people don’t know the facts about something we were so focused on what does that mean? Learning more about Belarus and how it is more or less continuing the theme of the old USSR today was shocking. I previously thought when the USSR was ‘defeated’ and ‘communism’ fell we were done. I was so unmistakably wrong. There our societies and countries today that has atrocities happen in them every day. Who really listens and try’s to help, not many people do. This fact has inspired a direction for my interest in journalism and travel. I hope someday I can tell the stories of people involved on our current hellholes of the world so that people will care and be willing to act. If they don’t know and aren’t inspired nothing will happen. I’m currently not majoring in Journalism but I would like to explore the field more and see what options lay there for me. Either way I am more globally aware that written history is subjective, if someone doesn’t want to tell part of a story they don’t have to. I know, even better now, that looking at the other side of the picture is key. We as Americans were never taught what the USSR did after World War II. What else is being left out today?
European and United States’ relations have always been closely intertwined. Whether it was the US fighting for independence from Great Britain, the Allies fighting together in the World Wars, or countless other examples, the United States and Europe have always had a close relationship. These historical alliances have been drilled into Americans heads for just long enough to remember them on an exam, afterwards only to be tossed out of the mind as useless information. However, if there is one thing I have learned about Europeans on this trip it is that they not only do not forget what Americans have done for them in the past, they know what America is doing right now. Through this knowledge I have gained an entirely new perspective of the US. American policy is not only followed and critiqued by a small majority of Americans, rather it is followed and critiqued by the entire world.
During a particularly moving experience on this trip visiting the American Veterans cemetery in Luxembourg, I came to the realization that American sacrifice in Europe, and American history in general, is not forgotten in Europe. It was a life changing experience not only gazing across the seemingly endless rows of graves, but realizing that this was a memorial held for lost Americans located in Europe, not America. No matter if they agree or not with current US policy, or how many years ago these soldiers gave their lives, Europe remembers and appreciates what America has done in the past. On a global scale, American history matters and is important in understanding current international relations.
Furthermore, current events in the US are followed closely by Europeans and this alters foreign perceptions of the US. For example, when at the “Our America Too” exhibit on our last day in Brussels our tour guise asked us the question, “what is America to you?” One of our classmates answered, “Security,” in response to which the guide asked about the shootings in Arizona. While America may spend the most on defense in the world, foreigners still look at security breaches in the US and question the safety of the country. Current events in the US are followed by outsiders, effecting perceptions of America.
In conclusion, American current events and history are hugely important in foreigners’ perceptions of Americans, whether Americans recognize this or not. For good or bad, everything that has happened, and will happen in America defines international relations and perceptions of Americans.
“Who controls the past, controls the future.” An Orwellian phrase that would prose prophetic in regards to the EU and 21st century civilization in general. Over the three weeks and change while on this trip, I have learned the importance of history, and the fact that other countries, perhaps more than the US. Remember their history on a daily basis and learn from their past mistakes to ensure a better future. In this way, with the knowledge and acceptance of the past, the European Union is striving for a brighter future that promotes human rights.
Starting first with Belgium, a country that has seen centuries filled with wars and dictators, is now the capital of the European Union, and institution that holds human rights, peace, and democracy as a pillar of its foundation. It was a truly amazing feat to be able to take a five minute taxi ride from a place that was destroyed by the Nazis in World War II, to the European Parliament- a symbol of peace in Europe. Yet thousands of Belgians do this daily, forcing them to remember the treacherous, war torn, history of Europe. Being face to face with history of that magnitude is not something that the average American has done yearly, let alone daily.
Furthermore, the Baltic States; Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, have also seen the evil side of history in the 20th century. The Baltics not only witnessed the engineered genocide of the Holocaust, but also the oppressive and genocidal regime of the Soviet Union. In fact, Baltic residents to this day live in former ghettos and soviet-bloc houses, literally forcing them to live in the former evils of humanity. It is difficult for myself and many Americans to understand the atrocious evils committed by the Soviets and Nazis, yet Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians are faced with this history every minute of every day.
Because of Europeans constant interaction with history, I have learned two things about their culture: to understand them- their people, and their politics- it is necessary to know their history, and furthermore that Europeans have flipped an evil history on its head and in turn attempted to make good. In America, World War II- the Holocaust, and even human rights violations in the Western United States- resonates simply as useless history in the minds of many younger citizens. However, perhaps because this history took place on European soil, Europeans face this every day, and through this it defines their culture. To Europeans, World War II and the following human rights crimes is not ancient history, but a lesson to learn from in future policy. As a result of this, Europeans have grown good from the heart of evil by realizing and embracing this history and then enacting future policy to ensure it will never be repeated.
I never thought that trying to order food in a train station would be a life changing experience; case and point I knew very little before coming on this trip. Imagine a mass of 20 Belgians all shouting their Panini orders to the shop keep in French, Flemish and God knows what other language that is still in use and it is your turn to order. You start questioning that decision to take Latin and not French real fast. While ordering a sandwhich may not seem like the most likely place to have a moment of extreme realization, it did help me realize several things which would be emphasized further on this trip and that I will use for the rest of my life; one of which is the method of pointing to order food. The others much more serious. I realized that the world, as much as I want it to be and previously thought true, does not always cater to American ignorance and overall attitude.
Moving forward from this point I will do all I can to make myself a more informed global citizen. I now believe firmly that it is necessary for me to learn at least one other language that I can use throughout my life, because, if the future is in the East, I will not even be qualified to work at a Hessburger. In addition to this I will not stop searching, not stop exploring the world with a new found perspective and thirst for knowledge. When we talked with the students from Belarus, one of them explained that he took such risks on a daily basis because he wanted more to his life than simply, “work, bar, and sleep.” Hearing him describe this life gave me chills in that without a passion to gain knowledge and explore the world, this is the life that myself and many other Americans are destined to live. It is a travesty that many Americans, living in the Land of the Free, choose to live the life that this man risks his life every day to avoid.
In short, as a result of this class I have a new set of eyes to view the world with and a fire behind me to fuel my desire to view it. I have experiences something that few of my friends will ever know, and I do not plan on letting this experience go to waste.
1. Overall I think this experience has really changed the way that I look at the United States. Though I appreciate things that we have like free refills and ketchup at restaurants, studying the European Union and being immersed in the culture there has given me a very different perspective on home. I have always seen the United States as the top dog and the best, but I’ve come to learn that we aren’t as great as we think we are. The system that the European Union has created is far ahead of us and much more relevant to the way the world works today. Learning about the human rights requirements in the Copenhagen Criteria and hearing about how they won’t associate themselves with nations who aren’t up to standards with their human rights really made me look at the United States and wonder why we don’t have such high standards like they do. The rights we hold up are for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” but the rights they hold up are so much more specific with attention to the recent problems such as the mistreatment of immigrants, which is an issue we have here in the United States as well. I have also noticed that the United States is very misunderstood. Talking to students in Lithuania I was asked about what it is like to live in the United States. Neither of the students had ever met an American before and had only seen them on television, so naturally they asked me if life was like “The Jersey Shore” reality show on MTV. Most definitely not. I never knew that our pop culture sent such a message to them and now I’m embarrassed by some of the things that I see on TV, knowing that overseas someone is watching it and will associate that with life in America. I now question a lot about the United States that I never thought of before. The healthcare in Europe shows that they really care about each and every person that lives there, while our healthcare system shows that we care about the insurance businesses that exist here. The standards for food are so much better in Europe. Does the United States not care about me enough to raise standards for what I’m putting into my body? My perspective has also changed in that I’m not sure that living here in the United States is the place for me. I truly appreciated the culture and mindset of Europe and the European Union especially for how open and comfortable it is with family values and concern for well-being, in contrast to the business (money-making) oriented and rushed life style that we live. I’ve always seen the United States as a great place to live, but that’s because it’s all I have ever known. Branching out on this trip and discovering a new way of living makes me question whether we really are the greatest country in the world or not..
2. On this trip we saw three very different cultures, though all are part of the European Union. In Brussels we saw the future of Europe, in the Baltics the present, and Italy the past. As the capital of the European Union, Brussels proved to be the standard for what member states should work for. The Baltics showed the European Union in the present tense. History still has effects on Europe and currently changes are going on and they are growing and developing. Italy showed us where Europe started. Learning about the Medici and the history of unifications in Europe showed the struggles and what happened in order to reach the point that they are at today. Going through each of these areas it became very evident that as they move forward, their past is still present. While in Rome at the Vatican museum, I came across the head of a statue that dated back to 2010-1998 B.C. I was shocked to see that, a time that I cannot even imagine. The history of Europe is all around them, whether it is seen in a good way or a bad way. Rich history is present, like the Coliseum found in Italy, but history of Soviet and Nazi occupation is inescapable as well. In the United States our past is our past and we can ignore it when we want. Out of sight, out of mind. We have never had tragedies as extreme on our soil like Europeans. The events that we lived past are still there looming. In the Baltics we learned about Soviet occupation and how the idea of America needing to save them from Russia is still a legitimate concern. To us Americans, the Cold War is over and we don’t have to worry about them messing with us. To Lithuanians, Estonians, and Latvians, the Cold War is over but Russia is still terrifying. I never looked at it from their perspective until being there with them. In the Baltics, the influences of their past are still present as well. The Soviet Union never existed in my lifetime so I’ve never seen them as relevant, but while in Vilnius at the opera the show ended and everyone clapped in unison. I didn’t understand why or how they all understood to do so, until later learning that during occupation this was customary. It was shocking to me to that those traditions still hold from a time that, to me, seems so long ago. Overall, this court showed me that the world is a lot more complicated than I have previously believed. Learning about communism especially showed me this, in that I’ve always been taught that communism is wrong but learning that some people from the Baltics would rather be living under a communist system instead of the current or how successful Bologna is doing under communism is shocking to me. I’ve always been taught Communism= bad, but now I’m seeing a lot more shades to the world than just black and white.
3. Coming into this course I thought I would learn about the European government and it would be interesting, but then I would go back to school and continue my studies on the Middle East and keep on preparing to apply for a job in the Department of Defense. Funny how things change. Now I’m switching my International Studies concentration to Europe, hoping to study abroad in Lithuania instead of Jordan, and dreaming of getting into a good law school so that I can study human rights law and get a job with an NGO like Amnesty International. Taking this course expanded my view not only on the world, but on the possibilities for my role in it. I’ve learned a lot about myself and how to put a focus to fit my passions. I also feel that I’m returning to school with a whole new perspective on the world. Learning about the different government system and way of life overseas shows to me a new standard for the United States to live up to. This spring I’ll be taking American Government and I feel that taking this class will bring a new way for me to evaluate our system and gives me something to compare it to. I feel that having this perspective will help me a lot in class, as well as all of the future political science classes that I will be taking at Elon. While many people understand how politics work here, I feel that my understanding of political systems in Europe will prove to be an advantage. Taking this class has also inspired me to take an economics class during my Elon career. The one thing about the course that baffled me the most was the economic portions, with the GDPs and the GNPs. I know that understanding the economy is so important and I feel that it just went right over my head at times. I want to ensure that I get a full grasp on international relations and international politics by fully understand every portion of it, and the economy seems to be the most important factor in our present time. Overall, I have three and a half years left at Elon and I’m so fortunate to have this course so early. With all that time left, I can adjust and make changes in order to really take advantage of what I discovered about myself and the world and make changes based on those discoveries.
In the lobby of our Latvian hotel, I had a conversation with a man traveling from India. He told me that he had lived in California and New York for a number of years and was offered the chance to receive an American passport, but refused the opportunity. To him, being an American is dangerous. He said America has a permanent target placed on it, and he did not want to be associated with that if not necessary. Living in America, I have never felt unsafe. I come from a military family and I know how much of the national budget goes toward defense spending. However, I have never known why so much is spent on defending our country. After getting gelato from the most delicious spot in Rome, we finished our cups and cones while sitting on the front steps of the Italian equivalency of the White House. No security guards shooed us away as they would have done in the United States. The Lithuanian Parliament’s new grand meeting hall is entirely encased in glass window panels. Our Congress meets in, essentially, a concrete box. The security procedure to get into the US embassy was the toughest that we had to pass through on our trip – much more difficult than even getting into the European Union Court of Justice where we walked right in to the Justices’ robbing room. America must take many precautions to keep its inhabitants safe. It operates with a big stick policy not necessary in other countries. Though I do not believe carrying my US passport places me in extra danger, this course has made me more aware of all the extra effort America takes in defending our freedoms. America is not as safe as I thought.
My views of America as a leader in technology has been challenged during this course. Technology in our hotels was lacking. The key system to get into rooms was very lacking. Every American hotel I have been to has used cardkeys for entry. The majority of hotels we stayed in while in Europe used regular keys which had to be returned to the front desk every time we left the building. It was inconvenient for us as well as the hotel staff. Technology is also very expensive for those living in Europe. Vitali, student at Tallinn University of Technology, said that the cost for an iPad was around 1000 Euros and an iPod touch was around 400 Euros. The high price tag for these items makes them inaccessible for many people, especially students on a tight budget.
However, the wonderful city of Tallinn has wifi internet nearly everywhere. Skype was invented in Estonia. Vitali said that he and his friends use Skype all the time for their communication needs. America has more affordable technology, but it is still facing tough competition for development and availability of use.
That same Indian man also said that America has no culture. I was very confused by this statement and quite offended. I was forced through his abrasive statement to develop an idea of what I think American culture is, and it is not entirely different from the growing trends in Europe. Our culture is fluid. Regionalism exists in that Southeastern residents enjoy foods different from that common of the Northeast region, but Atlantans and New Yorkers cheer and yell in similar ways for the Braves and Yankees, respectively. Flanders is not the same as Wallonia; they even speak different languages. However, they have a unifying and evolving sense of what it is to be a part of their state. The fluidity of movement in Europe mimics the waves of immigration in America in the 19th century. American culture reflects the influences of those immigrants. The travelers, workers, and new inhabitants of Europe impose upon their host their own norms. As culture exchanges and time passes, the original ideas get muddled and changed. Ragu, for example, has a totally different meaning in Florence than it does in America. In North Carolina, ragu is a decent pasta sauce. The Italian version is a glorious meat and tomato concoction simmered over the stove top for hours then plopped on top of an al dente pasta. Though original cannot be beat, I am still glad for the quick and easy American imitation.
Through this course, I learned that in Luxembourg, there are not just Luxembourgers. There are Germans, French, Belgians, and Luxembourgers. I thought I would not be able to use my knowledge of German because we were not going to any “German speaking countries,” but my cashier at the Namur chocolate shop counted my change in German! Florence does not just have Italians. American students, Asian tourists, Albanian shopkeepers, and Italians are all present in the streets. Gelato, an Italian cultural icon, at Grom was labeled in three different languages (Italian, English, and Japanese) to satisfy its customers. Estonia is a Nordic nation in the former Soviet Bloc. Russian is a common language. Vitali’s family came from Ukraine to live in Estonia. He speaks Ukranian, Russian, Estonian, and English. He mainly talks with his friends in Russian, rather than Estonian, while in Tallinn. Though he loves Tallinn, he hopes to marry a woman back in the Ukraine then move to Finland to find work. Vitali talked about all the places he has traveled – all through Europe. The only place it seemed like he had not visited was Florence. This course has taught me that the concept of Generation E is real. People move throughout Europe with great ease. The Schengen Plan allows students like Vitali to explore the continent to determine where he would be the most successful. As culture blurs across Europe, Generation E finds it easier to relocate to the places they wish to be. Vitali hopes to learn the Finnish language, but said it was not terribly important because most Fins know English.
As an International Studies major at Elon, I knew this winter term course would be perfect for me. It gave me the opportunity to see six (seven if you count the Vatican) different countries in Europe, each very different. This course has made me very excited to continue my European studies. I will be studying for a semester in Florence this upcoming fall. It was great to get to see where I will be living for four months. I did not make time to see the David, so I will have to go during the semester. If nothing else, I learned how to get to a fantastic gelato place in Florence, Grom. I have been acquainted with the public transportation system. Neither Elon nor my hometown have decent public transportation, so I had never really ridden a train before. With all the traveling we did as a group, planes, trains, and automobiles are no problem for me. After a stressful time trying to figure out which train would take us to Arezzo, and then searching for the correct platform, I feel fully prepared to take on any Italian train. I know the importance of validating transportation tickets (subway, train, bus) as I saw firsthand someone getting fined for not having an appropriate ticket. Also useful for preparation for my semester in Florence, I have learned the art of packing a suitcase. Through series of packing, unpacking, and repacking my suitcase, I know which necessities to include and what to leave out. I also discovered ways to get my heavy suitcase successfully on a crowded train.
As Dr. Morgan had said, there will be a point in our professional careers where we are on a business trip, stuck in an unfamiliar city. While in Bologna, I learned how to make the best of a situation like that. We became good friends with the workers at the tourist center who told us all kinds of fun things to do during the weekend, too bad we were there on a Friday. I ended up learning how fun it can be just to sit around at a café, snacking and watching the people around me.
This course also taught me how to ask questions to very important people. Talking to high-ranking officials can be very intimidating for some, but learning this skill will be very helpful for my early professional career.
I am hoping that my future career involves living abroad, or at the very least international travel. This course introduced me to a region of the world (the Baltics) most Americans will never see. I believe that my time spent there will increase my competitiveness amongst others who have had less adventurous experiences. I hope that through my travels, I will find my way back to the Baltic states.
Explain how your perspective of the United States had changed as a result of this course?
After experiencing many different cultures throughout this course, I have really come to find that I have a greater appreciation of the United States. Before this course I knew that America was considered the country of the free and the brave but I never fully appreciated what that actually meant. I have come to find that although other countries may have freedom and opportunity, it is nowhere near as unique as what we experience in the United States. Many of the cultures that we experienced during this course are still recovering from Soviet occupation and that hinders a lot of what the individuals as well as the country as a whole can accomplish. Although many of the European countries have joined the European Union in hopes to advance their political and economic situation, many of their citizens are still willing to risk their lives to come to the United States. Europeans are able to see that the governmental system that we have set in place is one of the best in the world. We have a constitution that was written over two hundred years ago and is still being followed to this day which is something that is very unique in this world and helps to provide greater legitimacy to our system. Having this system set in place allows for protection of human rights which is something that the countries we visited are struggling with. One of the things that really struck me in terms of human rights was talking to the Belarusian students. Although we hear about the horrors that were committed by the KGB in the Baltic’s, when they were under Soviet occupation, we seem to forget that these things are not just in the past. There are still prisons in Belarus today that resemble the old KGB prison we saw in Lithuania. Hearing the Belarusian students tell us that there is a good chance that they will end up in one of these prisons for merely attending a demonstration was very shocking. Knowing that this type of punishment could never happen in the United States just for disagreeing with governmental ideology gave me a greater appreciation for our country as a whole. But the conversation that gave me the most appreciation for my country was the one we had with our Italian waiter in Florence. When he asked where we were from, he was delighted to hear that we were from America. This led to conversations about why the United States is such a remarkable country. The waiter, Franco, told us that in Europe although some people may not like the American attitude they still find the United States to be a sign of hope. Our government system is a successful one that protects not only its own people but also those in danger around the world. Franco made sure that we understood how proud we should be that we are Americans. We have opportunities unlike anyone else as well as a government that is willing to protect us from the horrors that are committed around the world. Overall my perspective of the United States has changed in a very positive way. I discovered a lot about the United States through learning about the European Union and developed an even higher level of national pride from this course.
What has this course taught you about other countries and cultures and the way you view the world?
This course had a very big impact on how I view the world around me. I now am able to look at many of the European countries and understand why they currently function the way they do. I found that without understanding the history of a country first you can never truly comprehend their current situation. When we studied the three different Baltic States current situations we first had to understand what happened within these countries when they were occupied by the Soviet Union. By understanding the oppression the Lithuanians felt by the Soviet Union you can better understand their great desire to be part of the European Union as well as NATO. When the Lithuanians were occupied by the Soviet Union they had no voice and no opportunity to better their economy on their own. Their opinions were suppressed and they were taught only the beliefs of the Soviet Union. By joining the European Union they are now able to speak up for themselves as a country and be represented alongside some of the most powerful countries in the world. They now also have the opportunity to better their economy and have the opportunity to become a player in the global economy. One of the most valuable things I learned from the U.S. embassy representatives about Lithuania was that although the European Union is very important to them, they still consider joining NATO to be a much greater accomplishment. Since Lithuania became independent not too long ago, they have next to no military power. And although this lack of military power might not hinder countries within Western Europe, it is a big detriment to Lithuania. The proximity of Lithuania to Russia could cause a lot of problems in the future if Russia ever decided to attempt a military invasion of Lithuania again. Since Lithuania cannot protect themselves on their own and the European Union provides no military support, Lithuania must look to NATO to help protect them from any future attempt of a Russian invasion.
This course really helped to show me how important it is for the world to understand what happens in different countries and cultures. Although I knew a little bit about Lithuania because of my heritage, many of the people taking this course couldn’t tell you a single fact about any of the Baltic States before hand. Taking this course really proved to me that many other people in the world do not have a good understanding of the world around them. It helped me to appreciate that I had the opportunity to take this course and become a more cultured person as a result.
Looking at the course through a very personal perspective how will you use what you gained from this course in your Elon career and in your future?
The main thing that I have learned from this course is the importance of knowledge. Understanding the world around you makes you a well rounded person who can make informed decisions. However, many people do not have a good understanding of the history around the world especially in places like Eastern Europe. Since I have a very personal connection with Lithuania it is very important for me as person to help people recognize the past and present of the Baltic States. Many people in America cannot comprehend or even realize the injustices that have occurred around the world and many don’t even care. Knowing the suffering that my family has gone through because of these injustices helps drive me to educate others about what happened there in order to prevent it from happening ever again. What most Americans know about World War II are the horrors that the Nazi’s committed. Very few people know that the Soviet Union was just as appalling and some could argue even worse. It is very important for me as an American as well as a Lithuanian to try and get people to recognize why learning about the European Union and its member states’ history is crucial to creating a better world.
On a more academic level, I want to use what I learned in this course to help with my studies to become a sociologist. Since I am studying sociology I look at different cultures and societies and see why they function the way they do. By applying what I learned in this course to my studies in sociology I can help create solutions to prevent these injustices that happened in Eastern Europe and help others understand why different societies feel the need to join a greater organization like the European Union. Looking at these events that happened during and after World War II from a sociological perspective can help to predict how and why these injustices committed by the Soviet Union might happen in the future. By understanding these events and the devastating society it created afterwards can help to fuel the desire to prevent these events from happening in the future.
Overall though I will use what I learned from this course just to better myself as a person. The more knowledge that I can gain about the world can make me a more understanding and accepting person. Although I did know a bit about Lithuania before I took this course, I now know so much more then I could have imagined. By taking what I learned in this course and comparing it to what my mother has taught me about my family’s background I feel like I can understand myself as a person a bit better. I can now understand where I came from and how that shapes the person that I am today.
How has my perspective changed?
I went into this course expecting to gain a greater appreciation for other people’s cultures, and I did. What I didn’t expect was to gain a greater appreciation for America. Reflecting on my experience, I have come to realize that there are so many things that I take for granted and I’ve become aware of just how easy I have it as an American. Sure, our health care isn’t nearly as good as in Europe, but after travelling to six countries of the EU it’s the little things in life that I’ve learned to appreciate. What sort of things, you ask? Well, you don’t have to pay for ketchup packets at McDonalds here in the states, restaurants always give you unlimited refills of (free) water (and often times even soda) and you almost always get ice cubes in your glass. I didn’t see a single ice cube in Europe. Not only that, but in European countries, restaurants often charge you for seating and for bread (which often times is bland as they don’t put salt in it, and they rarely give you butter) and you’re lucky to find a restaurant that is willing to split the check several ways if you go with a group of students. Not only that, but in America waiters (and just people in general) smile more often and are more friendly. It’s also acceptable (even expected!) to be loud. If you converse in anything more than a whisper in the Baltic states, prepare to be given a stern, disapproving look by a stoic local. You’ll never find a public restroom that you have to pay to use in America, but they’re quite common in European countries (and not much cleaner, either). Driving around in America is much more orderly and less stressful whereas in Europe, especially Italy, anything goes. There are no gypsies in America to haggle me or street vendors who chase after you with scarves. The keys (or should I say “key”) in the hotels were also rather annoying, as almost all hotels in America use electronic card keys. And last, but not least, in America I’m considered skinny and attractive but in Europe I’m considered overweight and average looking. Please don’t mistake these observations of mine to be whiny complaints! They are merely little things that I noticed after spending three weeks in Europe that I have come to appreciate now that I am back home in the states. But it’s not just free ketchup packets and unlimited refills of water that I’m grateful for: after meeting Victor, a professor who participated in the protests against Belarussian President Lukashenko (and is probably paying for it by sitting in a prison cell right now) I’ve also realized just how many every day freedoms I take for granted in America, like my freedom of speech and my right to assemble peaceably. This course, while attempting to help me better understand the European Union also helped me better understand just how lucky I am to be an American. The EU has many wonderful qualities and admirable traits, but America has no equal.
What has this course taught you about other countries/cultures and the way you view the world?
I’m going to be honest: I knew next to nothing about the Baltic states before this trip. I had always lumped Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia together and never really bothered to learn the difference between the three countries. I knew nothing of their individual, unique histories or the trials and tribulations that the citizens of each country have had to face, from the Rumbula massacre in Latvia to the torture of innocent civilians in the KGB prison in Vilnius, Lithuania. After spending over a week in Moscow during my sophomore year of college, I became more aware of Russia’s imperialistic plans for the future… plans that, no doubt, include the Baltics: back in 2008, I wrote an opinions article for the Pendulum in response to Russia’s disturbing assertiveness in Eastern Europe. I noted that “in August, while most Americans were too busy watching the Olympics to notice, Russia invaded Georgia, a democratic ally of the United States” and pointed out that “Americans should have realized by now the nature of Vladimir Putin and his efforts to create a new Russian Empire. Putin, the prime minister of Russia, has tried strong-arming former Soviet republics into falling back into Moscow’s satellite system. Russia wants its empire back. And it isn’t going to wait.” Visiting the Baltic states and seeing the signs of Soviet oppression that remain to this day only reinforced my views. Those countries are still plagued by a culture of fear and suspicion. When we came to a crosswalk, Dr. Morgan pointed out how the people stopped at the street and waiting until they had the green light to cross, even when there were no cars in sight. It was strange for me to see, having been to New York City multiple times, where pedestrians start crossing the street even if a cab is on a collision course. Dr. Morgan said that it was part of the respect for order and the rule of law and the blind obedience and sheer devotion to the state that the Soviet Union had drilled into the minds of the citizens of its former satellites. Even though Russia left the Baltics, Soviet-style block apartment buildings are a constant, oppressive reminder of what once was. The people still live in fear of Russia, and rightfully so. Americans know nothing of war when compared to Europeans, who have lived through two world wars fought on their soil. We don’t have to worry about the constant fear of being invaded because we’re surrounded on both sides by oceans. This has made us somewhat complacent. The European Union was created to ensure that no war would ever be waged between member states of the EU, but Russia isn’t part of the EU. After talking to Dr. Morgan and visiting the Baltic states, my suspicions regarding Russia were proved to be prescient: when the KGB left Vilnius, the Russians said “We’ll be back.” Lithuanians haven’t forgotten those words, and neither should we.
How will you use what you gained from this course in the future?
The most important thing I gained from this course was a greater perspective of global events. When I look at the world, it won’t be through an American-centric lens any more. In a way, I’ve zoomed out a little as I continue to increase my awareness of EU politics and incorporate that knowledge into my world view. This course helped me achieve Elon’s vision of creating a “global citizen”. Like Dr. Morgan said, after completing this course, I feel that my fellow students and I have gained a level of sophistication in regards to our understanding of the world that rivals any other student of political science or international studies at Elon. Please don’t mistake my pride for arrogance. While I am aware of the fact that I have attained an impressive understanding of geopolitics, this course was also an incredibly humbling experience. It helped humanize Europeans in a way that I never expected to be possible. I now feel a visceral connection to all things pertaining to the EU, particularly its citizenry. I feel empathetic to Europeans now, which is surprising because after all I’ve learned about Europeans, I had almost come to disdain them what with their supposed air of superiority (which I learned to be nonexistant, as most of the Europeans I encountered were gracious and humble and eager to impress). I almost feel like an honorary citizen of Europe after spending three weeks there, immersing myself into their cultures, taking it all in and learning about the EU. That perspective will allow me to observe and analyze world events more objectively and rationally, not with a biased, Americanized view. That perspective is an invaluable achievement that I could not have attained had it not been for this course, and for that I am thankful.
Blog Post #1 – As a result of this course, my perspective towards the United States hasn’t changed too much, however, there are several moments that stand out to me that occurred on the study abroad program. Among the most important factors that I have now considered more concretely about the United States is the stability of our political system, our economic system, and our own cultural diversity. Each of these dimensions is a true strength of the United States and I have gained not only an appreciation but have seen them in a different light because of this study abroad course. Governments change, this is a fact that has taken place all over the world throughout generations. However looking at the United States compared to almost all European countries, there isn’t much of a comparison. The United States has a well defined system that hasn’t changed much since its founding while governments such as in Italy had a new regime less than a year apart for a while before the current government took place years ago. Other countries such as the Baltic States have wavered between soviet rule and German occupation and so on. In the countries that we visited, I noticed a lack of diversity. This a main strength that the United States possesses. We as one nation are the most diverse in the world. Another factor that stood out in my opinion were the liberties and freedoms that we as Americans have. I believe that they are somewhat underestimated by Americans. This was reinforced when several of the students talked to the waiter at dinner in Florence, Italy and he told us that the United States reminds the rest of the world what freedom really is and we should always be proud to say that I am an American. A second example is when we visited the KGB museum it was hard to understand why this place still existed even after I was born. After being in the countries and listening to stories have had a resounding impact on the way that I think about what it is to be an American. One of the days in Estonia, we were talking to the Belarusians; while we were listening to them talk it was hard not to think that the professor that I am currently listening to is going to be interrogated in a few days and could be put in jail and there was very little he could do about it. Imagine getting a letter in the mail from the US government saying that they were going to interrogate you in only a few days away. One not positive result of my perspective of the US was that we are the loudest people wherever we go. Even if we were trying to be quiet, I could hear every conversation that we going on between Americans and nothing that the Europeans were saying. This is a well known fact about Americans that I hope doesn’t become too much of what we are known for.
Blog Post #2 – This course made me realize how much influence that the United States actually has on the rest of the world. Every policy decision that we make as a nation reverberates around the globe. We are the global “aggressor”. This idea was given to me by an Italian student who we met at a bar in Brussels. Though they saw the United States as a highly aggressive nation, they said that it needed to be done and they respected the US for standing out and doing so. The rest of the world still has some catching up to do in this category, but it doesn’t seem to want to. The European Union seems perfectly satisfied with not having a large military force or one at all for that matter. They only have the small 60,000 person Rapid Reaction Force and defense spending that is dwarfed by the United States. One of the topics that we discussed was that many people in the ex soviet era states actually would rather have that type of society and governmental rule that a democracy. There are some benefits such as everyone has a job, food was available, everyone had a home, etc. This opinion especially resided within the older generation in the Baltic States and also currently in Belarus. Although these nations have a very low GDP and per capita income compared to other European Union countries and other countries around the globe, they are a perfectly happy people with their system. Another example of something the course taught me about the world was when we were at the Vilnius, Lithuania at the Lithuanian opera and at the end; everyone clapped at the same rate. This is the way it was done years ago under soviet rule and they know nothing else but to continue to do this. I felt almost out of place if I clapped at a different pace then the speed of the rest of the audience. History is very real to these people and they don’t want to forget it, even as horrible as it might have been for some. It will be very interesting to see how the next generation of Europeans handles the new democracy and whether they can hang on to what is going to be handed over to them. They will have many questions to answer such as how to deal with the debt crisis, whether to let in Turkey, etc. The question of how they will deal with democracy was asked when we were in Brussels by the Portuguese guide at the European Parliament and made me think about the answer for the rest of the program. I was never able to come to a definite conclusion on how I thought the next generation would handle it. I guess we will have to wait to find out.
Blog Post #3 – I have already used some of what I learned and will continue to do so in my work outside of Elon. The day after we returned from our program, I had to receive a debrief on what we did while abroad and before I left, I had to receive a travel briefing. This is due to my internship with the Department of Defense. For the future, I have gained a greater appreciation for the different cultures, economic, social, and political needs of so many different people. The world is a much smaller place now. Everyone we spoke to for the most part was able to converse in English with us, and they were fine doing so rather than speaking in their native tongue. One question that was asked several times over the course of the trip was whether American students should speak more than one language. We heard opinions from both sides of the spectrum but I just can’t personally justify having Americans students learning at least five languages like many Europeans do. The European students need to because of their proximity to other languages and the fact that they do business in all of the more than twenty languages in the European Union every day. Everyone has the right to speak in his or her native tongue but the one language that is used all the time no matter where we were was English. The taxi driver that we had in Vilnius, Lithuania was a big fan of the Miami Heat basketball team and loved the NBA. He was delighted to speak to us in English and discuss what our opinions were on Lebron James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to go to the Miami Heat. He also was a big fan of Žydrūnas Ilgauskas who is a Lithuanian basketball player who also plays for the Miami Heat. He is somewhat of a national hero there. As for the use of the course for the rest of my Elon career, I believe that I will be able to look at questions posed in classes with a different perspective. Instead of answering them though an American perspective, I can look at it through the eyes of someone that I encountered while abroad. As we have learned over the course, the European Union has more global weight than the United States in the world and has a larger GDP and a larger population and that is why we should take a different approach when making important decisions. The EU is now becoming a very powerful counterweight to the United States in a world that has been dominated by the US for years. I will always remember the experiences that I had on this trip and will carry them with me for the rest of my life.
Explain how your perspective towards the USA has changed as a result of this course. Be specific, give examples of things you experienced that changed your perspective.
Prior to our trip to the European Union, I had the notion that the US was the greatest place on Earth. On our trip, we visited the Belgium EU President’s exhibit of “It’s Our America Too” and during that tour, our guide asked us why we thought America was the best place to live. Some of the answers that the students gave were the reasons that the media and Republican/Tea Party had drilled into our heads as being the reasons America was the best like, “it’s the land of freedom.” Our tour guide immediately shot down these poor answers as being wrong, because truthfully, they were wrong. My answer to the tour guide was that we were the land of space (which although true, was a cop-out answer). The US is a land of excess – a land of individualism that cares nothing for our own neighbors.
However, no one mentioned that we were the land of innovation, granting the most patents annually among all nations. No one answered that were the land of hard workers where our individualism pushed us to work as hard in order to better our standing within society. The US is a land that rewards hard work. And prior to popular belief, the US is still the largest economy in the world.
My perspective towards the US changed most during our time in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Although we had previously learned how much the Baltic States love NATO, it was our conversations in Lithuania in which I learned how the US pledged unyielding support to the Baltic States through NATO. They love us for Bush’s speech, and I was very humbled by how much they look to us for guidance as they continue to make strides as a new democracy.
Restaurant ordering was very different in Europe than in the United States. Although I do love how you cannot split checks, get charged for water, get charged for bread, get a table charge, and not have unlimited ketchup, Europeans have mastered the way in which they order food and pay the check. Throughout Europe at many of the restaurants, our orders were taken down on an electronic device, such as a palm pilot. It seems that in the land of innovation, we could get some of these devices into our restaurants. Also, the practice they have in which they bring the credit card reader directly to the table seems like the best way to do it since our current practice of giving the card to the waiter seems like incredible faith and an invitation for credit card theft.
I would not trade growing up and living in the United States for anything, but this trip has made me realize that it would not be bad to live elsewhere. Of course I will always be pro-US, I was born and live there, but at least I realize that it is not the only country in the world.
What has this course taught you about other countries and cultures and the way you view the world?
The most important thing I took away from this course is that there are other countries in the world that matter. The European Union is a force, that although new, has already begun to shift the balance of power away from the United States and shifting it so that the EU and US are equal partners in the international community. The many different countries, cultures, and languages that the EU has to deal with are amazing, and it is a wonder that are able to cope with it. Whenever we went to any government building in the EU, if we looked at the back, you could see the 15+ different booths for translation. Never before had a come so close to realizing the implications that the tower of Babel had on how societies interact than within Europe. It was also amazing that many of the Europeans that we came into contact with spoke multiple languages (usually their native language, English, and their neighbors language). As an American, we do not have to constantly deal with foreign languages, since the only other language we really have to deal with is the Mexican dialect of Spanish. To work at the European parliament or council, employees have to be fluent in at least two languages, and in order to get a promotion, additional languages must be learned. The way in which cultures mix and interact with each other in Europe, while still maintaining their cultural identity, is amazing and something us Americans could learn, instead of forcing immigrants to assimilate into modern American culture.
What I have realized as a result of this course is that people in the European countries of Belgium, Luxembourg, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Italy are for the most part equal to us of the US. They have similar wants, needs, and aspirations – after all, they are our “cousins.” They listen to the same music, wear similar (although seemingly more formal) types of clothing, and want the same iPhones.
The most important lesson I learned from this course is that it is not the greatest aspiration to be American, because often we have a sheltered view of culture and the world around us. Instead, it might be more important to aspire to be European since they are constantly bombarded with different cultures and must therefore use all that information to create a persona that is able to navigate the incredible diversity present within the European Union.
Looking at this course from the very personal perspective, how will you use what you gained from this course in your Elon career and in your future.
This course was an introduction into the complexity of the European Union. I now have the foundation to understand the different issues that the European Union faces and the dynamics that can play out between the countries. Using that foundation will be key to understanding international relations because of the increasing role that the European Union has within the international community.
Although my time at Elon is short being a senior, I hope that understanding the European Union as a result of this course will help me in my studies, particularly in my finance major. As the world comes out of global recession and different governments create new financial regulation as a safeguard against problems happening again, I hope that my increased understanding of how the European Union works will serve me well and give me a more complete perspective that those of my peers.
Additionally, I hope that this course will help me in my search for jobs. What I have learned about myself on this trip is that it would not be hard for me to live outside of the US and work. I had serious doubts about the culture shock that I might experience since it was only the third time I had been away from the US in my life. I am happy to report that I feel that I would be okay with working outside of the United States, however, I can only say that I could only work in Europe if it were to be outside of the US or Canada. Also, I hope that this course will be seen by potential employers to be a sought-after trait that differentiates myself from competition. It is my goal to be working for a financial company within the European Union for some amount of time after graduation. It would be my dream to be the European Union expert within a financial company and to be living somewhere in the European Union (preferably with a tall, blonde, Nordic wife).
Explain how your perspective towards the US has changed as a result of this course. Be specific – give examples of things you experienced that changed your perspective.
Before this course, I read the news through a United States perspective. My knowledge of history and current world events is related to US interests, but throughout our travels, I realized how this limits my knowledge and perspective. In talking to people we met with, especially our tour guide for the “This is Our America Too” exhibit in Brussels, I became aware of how many Americans are ignorant of world history and global events, in addition to much of US history. Our group was embarrassed with our lack of knowledge, but I do not think we would have known how ignorant we were if we had not been confronted by it constantly. I realized many Americans do not know how limited our knowledge of world events is and are not concerned. In contrast to the very aware and knowledgeable Europeans, Americans appear ignorant and unconcerned with outside perspectives which is disappointing for a nation with such power.
Throughout our time in the Baltics, I was appalled and frustrated by our lack of knowledge of the horrors against the Jews in Rumbula forest and against people deemed enemies of the state in the KGB prison. I believe that leaving these events out of textbooks and knowledge of WWII is a greater failure and embarrassment than the US’ failure to intercede. History is written by the winner and throughout this trip, I became more aware of how skewed the United States’ perspective of history really is. I also realized how the US in terms of foreign policy is also slanted. Through listening to various people talk about topics such as the Iraq War and the Swift Agreement, I understood how the US considers their own interests without considering the influence and weight of the European Union. In contrast to the EU and European countries, the US is a very young country and is much more concerned with the short term rather than long term consequences.
I was also struck by American pop culture across Europe: American music in restaurants and taxis and movies and shows on TV. I asked a Ukrainian student we met in Estonia about American music and pop culture, and he agreed that the perspective of Americans is widely drawn from pop culture. However, many Americans do not know or care how they are viewed by the imported pop culture. I am now more critical of our pop culture and am disappointed that many do not care how it reflects on the US.
Overall, my perspective of the United States now is much more critical. I knew that our history textbooks and news are not accurate by any means, but now I understand the possible consequences of such ignorance. Before this course, I knew I should seek out more information to better understand the world, but now I really understand the need to be knowledgeable because the US is no longer the only big player in the international scene and it does not always have the best world perspective.
What has this course taught you about other countries and cultures and the way you view the world? Be specific, give examples.
Talking to people from all over Europe and observing the cultures of six countries, my views have drastically changed. I was most struck by the efficiency. Everyone is very conscious of space: I was not bumped into walking down the street and for lunch in restaurants, people stand and eat. In grocery stores, there are only hand baskets because everyone buys for that day.
In the cities we visited, I noticed a flow and given any disruption, people found a way around it. Throughout the trip, we asked people how many languages they spoke and most spoke at least four. Not knowing the languages for the countries we visited, we did not have issues with taxis or restaurants because people are constantly confronted with diversity and find a way to communicate. Our guide in Luxembourg noted they learn so many languages because they encounter a hundred thousand who come into the country every day just to work. Despite the constant contact with diversity, there are still underlying issues such as the discrimination against non-Estonians.
In each country we visited, I also learned to appreciate the living history and resilience of Europeans. Touring the Jewish ghetto in Latvia, there is a park where there used to be a Jewish cemetery, and people live in the buildings once part of the ghetto. In Vilnius, the KGB museum is still in the center of the shopping district, reminding everyone of what happened only twenty years ago. What I found more humbling was the connectedness of people we met to recent history. Almost everyone on the street older than us had experienced the fears of the KGB and oppressive government. Annie, our guide in Luxembourg, told us her memories of a US soldier and of her responsibilities to tend to a grave in the US cemetery. The determination of Europeans to work with this history in their daily lives is astonishing. Our guide at the KGB museum educated about the prison because his grandmother had been arrested and the Belarusian professor we met is likely to be in a KGB prison because he is not willing to back down from his fight for freedom.
Culturally, I appreciate the mobility of Europeans and their pride in the EU as we talked to a number of Europeans from all over Europe with very different opinions. I understand the pride in the EU and the determination to work together towards long term goals. I observed how Europeans were more committed to traditional family values through the interactions between parents and children and the relaxing couples in Arezzo on a Sunday afternoon. However, I also observed the uniqueness and untraditional nature of the EU in its transparency, with almost all information public, and willingness to try something new. Learning from those we talked to and making these observations, I better appreciate the diversity of Europe and am more interested in learning and experiencing the different cultures of the world.
Looking at this course from a very personal perspective, how will you use what you gained from this course in your Elon career and in your future? Be specific.
I definitely learned more on this trip from observation than I expected; I learned how to learn from experience. I have always been a book learner, but I now am more observant and critical of what I hear and see. For example, this weekend while at home, I went to a local bookstore and noticed almost all of the books in the ‘General History’ section were about US history and there were few European history books. I am more motivated to learn from experiences outside of the classroom such as through service experiences and internships.
I learned to appreciate Europe and would love to study abroad for a longer period of time. Since that may not work with my major, I am determined to take a few classes to learn more about European history and culture. As a psychology major, I am more interested in researching resilience after learning about the Baltics and observing their ability to cope. I believe that now with a better understanding of diversity and some European cultures, I can appreciate diversity and help others to be more open to experiencing different cultures and opinions.
I think I enjoyed the non-tourist activities and cities the most. I have caught the travel bug and want to see all of Europe and beyond. I also have discovered a love of climbing towers and beautiful views. Furthermore, in Europe, I did not necessarily experience a culture shock or any extreme difficulty communicating with anyone, and so I do want to go somewhere and feel what it is like to be completely unsettled and out of place.
With a better understanding of the European Union, I think I am more aware of how I as an American am viewed. I believe it is useful to know how the EU works as issues in the EU are relevant to the US. I was embarrassed by my limited knowledge of European history and global events, and I am determined to read more books on general European history, WWII, and Soviet control of the Baltics. I appreciated watching the news while abroad because it actually covered world events, while when we got back to the US, I noticed the first news story was about Charlie Sheen. I am determined to keep reading the EUObserver, BBC, and other news sources that provide a different perspective.
On a personal level, I appreciated the relaxed culture and learned how to appreciate meals and time with friends. I want to learn to cook dishes from around the world. I want to discuss what we are learned and experienced with friends. I also realized I am able to be really independent and am excited to make my own path, doing what I want to. And part of that path is taking the time to enjoy my family and friends. I noticed that I was less concerned with schedules and time while abroad, and I want to continue improving this mindset over this semester.
Looking at this course personally, how will I use what I gained from this course in my Elon career and in the future?
I was initially drawn to this European Union: The State of Europe course because of my interest in international politics and other languages. I feel that the experiences I had throughout this course will be of value of me because of the firsthand experience I gained over the course of this trip.
This course took a classroom experience and transformed it into a fantastic hands-on experience that will be really useful and motivating when we return to Elon. It will allow me to bring an interesting perspective into my classes at Elon, a perspective that many Elon students could not find without leaving the country.
The information we learned on this course will have a significant impact on the rest of my Elon career because of my International Studies and Latin American Studies minor.
The personal encounters we had with various branches of the European Union on this trip will be of immeasurable value in any future profession. It will be especially helpful when a region comes up in work and I can say that I have not only been there, but have interacted with the culture, people and government of that nation.
I cannot wait to put the knowledge we learned on this trip to work at Elon and in the future.
What has this course taught you about other countries, cultures and the way you view the world?
The name of this course is undeniably fitting – The European Union: The State of Europe, and we learned just that. The European Union, founded in 1952 after World War II, is a direct result of Europe’s tumultuous history. This history of violence led to the desire for a future of peace. Although the European Union has led to a peaceful half-century in Europe, the state of Europe will continue to evolve politically, socially and financially for years to come.
The EU’s borderless market, the spreading common culture, and pan-continental government and currency are all attributes of the “United States” of Europe. This term, “The United States of Europe” is a fitting description of the distinct EU member-states. Governmental sovereignty is maintained within each state. Cultural ties are also strictly maintained in some senses in most member-states, however lately, the younger generation of Europeans, or Generation E, the European melting pot culture is being reinforced. Although the 27 states of the European Union qualify as united states, they do not identify in the least with the United States of Europe.
The exhibition “It’s Our America, Too” in Brussels, Belgium (one of the strongest supporters of the European Union), highlighted how biased an international point of view may be. It was a real shock to see how ready our Belgian guide was to criticize the United States in the history of Europe. It was hard to appreciate his point of view but after discussing it as a group, the exhibitions critique of the US was appreciated.
This study abroad course truly opened my mind when it came to different countries and cultures around the world. It was really interesting to go to countries that are less traveled by Americans, and I really appreciated the experience. I definitely learned that we, the United States, are not always right, not even close to be right, and need to learn to admit when we are wrong.
How has my perspective on the USA changed as a result of this course?
My perspective on the USA has changed greatly as a result of this course. It undoubtedly started when I read the first chapter of The United States of Europe by T. R. Reid. I was constantly in awe of the consistent and innate distain for Americans in Europe. Reid’s tells of Jerry Springer – The Opera, where every character is crude, fat and stupid – the European’s typical American. French parliamentarian Noel Mamere, who wrote the book No Thanks, Uncle Sam, argues that it is appropriate to be anti-American because of the US’s “combination of strength and stupidity.” (Reid, 19) These controversial points against the United States sparked curiosity and questioning on my part even before we departed US soil.
The biggest change in my perspective on the United States would be that the US is not the melting pot that it claims to be. Culture and language in Europe is so much more integrated than in the United States. Our lack of cultural diversity is exemplified in our fear of Latinos who are portrayed as invaders of “the American Way”. This one “threat” to American culture is the one challenge that has the potential to change the way the US thinks about cultural diversity.
To work in the EU, for example, it is not only encouraged but required that one enter a position speaking at least 3 languages and that the number of languages spoken must be increased every two years, until proficiency is achieved in 6 languages. This is a requirement because of the emphasis on cultural and lingual diversity that is not present in the United States. This is illustrated in the fact that in the EU, any citizen has the right to be heard in his or her mother tongue. Conversely, one cannot walk into an American restaurant, let alone a courtroom, speaking a language other than English and expect to be heard.
Another stark contrast between Europe and the United States is the varying reaction to communism. The word communism carries with it a negative connotation in the United States as it invokes our historical interactions with the Soviet Union. To Americans, Soviet Union Communism is the prominent definition of communism in our history books. This is not the case for Europeans, as the communist party is still active in European politics.
Throughout the month of January my perspective of the United States has been altered as a result of my experiences in this course. Throughout pre-departure class, and while preparing for my time abroad, I thought I would appreciate the United States less, after learning about the unique cultures and political system that comprise the European Union. Instead, I have come to appreciate the United States for certain traits that it possesses and have a greater respect for our innovative nature as a country. Specific instances such as the Riga Dinamo hockey game opened my mind, and forced me to consider elements of life that I take for granted every day. In the United States, our capitalistic free market economy allows business entities to compete for market share and consumer awareness. As a Sport and Event Management major I’ve become used to the concept of sports marketing and sponsorship. This entire concept failed to exist in Riga, just 22 years ago around the time I was born. This concept has been refined in the United States and exemplifies some of the basic economic freedoms that exist in our economy. When I entered the arena in Riga, I could have been in any hockey town in the United States. On ice advertisements, music, public address announcements, and digital media were all being used by a relatively young nation. The atmosphere in Riga revealed to me that they strive to have a better life, one that resembles the freedoms of the United States. In communist Russia, there was no free market. There was no sponsorship. There were no rowdy hockey games with fans screaming passionately about something other than the soviet state. Traveling abroad reminded me that despite our troubles in the past ten years, countries like Latvia yearned for the freedoms which American citizens enjoy daily, even in the worst of times. By experiencing this hockey game on a Monday night in Riga, I was reminded of my appreciation for my country, and that it remains an important reminder to newly liberated countries that innovation and freedom exist culturally, politically, and economically.
Before engaging in this course my cultural experiences had been limited to textbooks, and my “international” experience had been limited to the North American continent. Needless to say, Europe was a bit more eye opening than Mexico. Crossing the Atlantic and meeting with students, professors, and government officials allowed me to understand how America is viewed from the European continent. Stepping off the plane I was under the impression that I would know only what textbooks and The United States of Europe taught me about Europe, while European students would be more advanced, with strong opinions. It was my experience, after meeting with Simon and Vitelli, that we all have similar questions, and in many cases we are misguided or have misconceptions. I was informally interviewed with questions such as, “Are summers like American Pie? Does every American have a dog and a pool? Do all students have cars?” I realized my answers to his questions would vary greatly depending on location. A student in Boston or New York, would give you an entirely different answer than one in Mississippi. Just as a student in Estonia would reply differently than a Lithuanian, or an Italian. I was once in the habit of “sorting” by region. I’d say let’s clump Europe together, Asia, and then India is somewhere in the middle. While this is an overstatement, after traveling to Europe I realized that each country, the size of Arizona or Maryland, has pronounced differences greater than or equal to those between individual states in America. As such, we must realize media, books and geographic location do not equate to firsthand experience or interviews. I think I have developed a more finite appreciation for each region, and I hope that my interactions with European students have done the same for their knowledge and understanding of America and its states.
While this course attempts to inspire academic, personal, and cultural growth, I feel that some of my personal development and growth has yet to be uncovered. Upon completion of the course I have gained perspective on economics, politics and culture. However, for now, the strongest impacts of the course have been distinctly personal and cultural in nature. I feel that during my remaining months at Elon, and after graduation I will be more mindful of my personal history. The experiences that impacted me the most during this course related to the study of the holocaust, Jewish persecution, and our time in Eastern Europe. Spending time in the Baltic States reminded me that my ancestors were impacted by Russian dominance and Nazi Germany many years prior to my visit. The time on this trip may lead me to be more inquisitive, as I never spent much time learning about my father’s family history. In a less academic context, I feel that gaining experience as a traveler, and being introduced to foreign countries and cultures, may make me more likely to return in the future. Prior to this winter term I had not been to Europe, and I was relatively unfamiliar with other cultures. I had only a basic understanding of the United States and how it is viewed from a global perspective. Developing a basic threshold of global experience will be of personal benefit when I travel in the future, and will allow me to be comfortable exploring countries and cultures that are unfamiliar to me. This will also make me a better American citizen who actively studies and understands national and international governance. Grasping the significance of the European Union and its impact on Americans will be valuable as a consumer, worker, and as a voter.
Before taking this course I never perceived the United States as being the best nation in the world. Similarly, I never thought of European nations to be far more superior to the United States as many people believe to be true. I have always thought that the institutions of Europe and the United States both had positive and negative aspects and that each could do some things better. However, this course has, in fact, changed my perspective toward the United States. I have come to realize that over the course of history, and even presently, it is very easy to be an American living mostly in isolation in North America. Although, in the minds of many, the Baltic States are new countries seeing as they have only been democratic nations for twenty years, each of those three countries has an extensive history that far surpasses that of the United States.
History often determines the trajectory of the development of a country. Every country in Europe has dealt with centuries filled with conflicts, conquering, and regime changes. In comparison, the U.S. has only had to adapt to such drastic changes very few times in its existence. The U.S. is still a very young nation and could learn a lot not just from the European Union as a whole but from individual member states who have created government systems time and time again over the course of history. Americans are very resistant to change. If Europeans were as resistant to change as Americans the European Union as we know it today would not exist. It is apparent where this European resilience comes from. For example, the city of Tallinn was taken over by the Swedish, German, and Russians before the thirteen colonies were even founded. Lithuania used to span almost all of Eastern Europe. Both Estonia and Lithuania were occupied by Russians, then Germans, and then Russians again. Each time these nations needed to adapt and change in order to survive. This resilience and adaptable nature is something that the United States lacks. Europe has a perception of the United States as a country that makes many mistakes within the international community. I think it is important for Europeans to realize how long it took them to get where they are today and be aware of the fact that the U.S. is less than 300 years old. The U.S. has a lot of growing to do in many areas and I believe that with time, many changes can occur to allow the U.S. to live up to the high standards that the world holds it to.
This course has taught me many things about countries that many Americans know nothing about. Throughout my education I learned about Eastern Europe as a region of former Soviet states, not as separate countries with their own histories, values, and cultures. For instance, prior to this course I had no idea Estonia aligned itself more with Nordic countries than with other former Soviet states since it had been clustered in with Latvia and Lithuania. It was interesting to learn that although Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union it was still able to receive television from Finland and thus realized what was actually going on in the west.
Similarly, as an American I have only heard of the Russian form of communism that is associated with many atrocities. Visiting these nations and hearing people speak of older generations longing to once again be under Russian control was somewhat shocking. However, hearing our tour guide in Riga describe how secure life was and how people were certain of their futures allowed me to understand why one would want to go back to communism. Furthermore, I was able to experience communism in a different form in Bologna, which is called the red city. While in Bologna I felt as though I was in any other city as people went about their daily business. There weren’t any cliché or stereotypical symbols of communism that Americans attribute to all forms of communism. These experiences have reshaped the way I perceive communism. The United States has developed a paradigm in which communism is viewed only in one way and it is associated with Russia and this is just not the case. Through this course I have come to find the stigma that has been placed on the concept of communism in the United States is not necessarily applicable to all forms of communism found within the world.
I also found it comforting to realize that European students have the same concerns and questions as American students. For instance, Simon, a potential international student at Elon, wanted to know the reputation Elon has with potential employers as well as what kind of free time he would have at college. Similarly, Vitale in Estonia wanted to know if summers in the states were really like what he saw in the American Pie movies as well as if everyone in America owned a house, a dog, and a swimming pool. It was comforting to see that European students are not too dissimilar from American students.
This course has allowed me to learn more about the world, which I believe will aid me in my future in many ways. As Dr. Morgan said, if her students are able to dispel the myths and misconceptions about any of the countries and institutions that we studied while abroad then her work was done. I have a greater knowledge and understanding of Eastern Europe that many of my fellow classmates at Elon do not have. I have a whole knew understanding of Communism that I believe many Americans lack. Many Americans immediately associate communism with Russia and after this trip I can now see that this is a false connection in some ways. Additionally, as I prepare to enter law school in the fall I believe my new perspective on law and justice will be beneficial to me in my studies. Witnessing first hand how transparent and effective the European Court of Justice is almost makes me ashamed of the American justice system. There is no way a group of students like us would have ever been allowed in a deliberation room or a robbing room in the Supreme Court. Hopefully the knowledge that I’ve gained about European law will enable me to bring a different perspective to different legal situations that I encounter in my future. If enough American citizens become aware of how the European Union works in the manner that we have on this course, our generation may be able to bring about change in our own government system and regain a positive perception from Europeans.
1. The major experience that changed my perspective towards the United States on this course was visiting the KGB prison in Lithuania. It’s hard admitting that our educations about what happened after World War II are far from complete, but seeing how we gave up so many countries to the Soviet regime shines a harsh light on US irresponsibility after the war. Also, there was the interesting perspective that some of the older generations in former Soviet satellite states were longing for the days before independence. To an American, this sounds completely insane since we are taught only that the Soviets were horrible dictators that ruined countries. We don’t learn about the fact that many people felt more stable in the controlled economic environment that the Soviet rule provided. It was an interesting juxtaposition to every American opinion that I had heard my entire life.
The other visit we did that stood out to me was the American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg. It is one thing to learn about a war from books, but it is completely different when you see the crosses at the site and you realize that so many of the men that died in that war were the same age as we are. The most humbling experience was when Dr. Morgan asked the group whether or not we thought that we would risk our lives for our country like those men did. I had to admit that I wasn’t sure I could. Of course, it would be nice to be able to say that I would do so in a moment, but hearing some of the details of the Battle of the Bulge earlier made me realize that there is so much more to what these men did than the romanticized version we hear most of the time in America. This visit also challenged the idea I’ve had about American history. It made the fighting in World War II more real and erased some of the Hollywood glamour that is attached to the American view of it that I had before seeing the graves and hearing the soldier’s stories.
2. This course has taught me that I have so much to learn in the way of assimilating to other cultures. There are so many small things that surprised me and made me feel very acutely that I was no longer in the company of Americans. One of these instances was when I was eating at the hotel restaurant in Estonia. Even though Dr. Morgan had warned the group not to expect the overly polite service that accompanies every meal out in America, I was not prepared for the waitress to be as curt as she was. She told us that we really should have made a reservation since we came in well after most hotel guests had eaten dinner even though it was only about 8pm. Then she made a rude comment when one of the people at the table ordered a side dish for their main course because they weren’t that hungry. It shocked me a little because that sort of behavior could get a waiter fired in America. I found out that experience a difference in culture, even on a small scale like that, was hard to prepare for.
The other thing that I learned was how people in these other countries came to shape their perceptions of America through movies and television shows. The night that this was the most obvious was when a small group of us were going to dinner with a Ukrainian student we had met at Tallinn Technical University. While we were talking about the differences between living in Estonia and America he asked us whether or not summers in America were similar to the movie American Pie. I was a little shocked by the question, but when I started to think about it I realized that Americans make similar assumptions about other countries based on things we see in movies. It was enlightening to see how America presents itself through the entertainment it exports to other countries. Another moment when this skewed perception of America was obvious was while we were the Monastery’s shop in Bologna. When we were introduced as American students, the monk said “Oh, American students are rich!” It was strange to realize that this man thought that just because we were American meant that we were better off than many other people that walked through that store. “America” as a concept has very different meanings to the people we met in Europe than it does for many Americans. For example, when we were at the museum exhibition in Brussels It’s Our America Too and we were asked what America meant for us, our answers ranged from safety and home to freedom. This is so different from the images of American Pie and wealth that came to the minds of some people we met in Italy and Estonia.
3. This course has shown me just how clueless I was about much of the world. I did not have a good working knowledge of the European Union and how it worked before this, nor did I even stop to consider that my historical knowledge of the Soviet Union was shamefully lacking. So many of the people in the countries we visited know so much about America’s current events as well as its history that it was rather embarrassing to consider my knowledge of their countries in comparison. If Americans are going to consider themselves a world power, there’s really no excuse for not knowing more about the world we seem to have so much power in. Even the fact that I watched so much CNN just because it was the only English channel in many hotels made a difference in the way I think. For example, when I returned, I was talking to a friend about study abroad and she said that she was studying in Egypt next fall, but with recent events her parents were a little worried about the choice. Having watched so much CNN recently and having a good working knowledge of the riots happening in Egypt, it shocked me to hear another girl say, “Why? What’s going on in Egypt right now?” Part of me wanted to ask her if she was joking since the riots have been going on for around a week now. I couldn’t believe that this girl had just gone about her life not knowing anything about the situation. This made me appreciate knowing what was going on in the world and being able to be a part of a discussion about these issues.
This course has inspired me to learn more about the world not only in terms of politics and current events, but also learning more about other cultures through media like music and films. So much of America’s culture is exported all over the world, but there is very little foreign culture entering America. Therefore, there has to be a deliberate attempt made at broadening one’s understanding of the world and other cultures. Admittedly, part of the reasoning is selfish: it feels good to be well informed about a topic being discussed, but I think it’s also important for Americans to be more a part of these discussions and be more informed about the world as a whole.