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Before I Came To The US, I Promised Myself Not To Get Political

It has now been over three months since I first arrived in West Florida, USA and my time here is almost over. I am already working on final assignments and studies for the final exams have started as well. I think this is a good time to reflect on one of my top resolutions I made before coming here and how it has worked out.

With the presence that the USA has all over the world in the media, entertainment, and in politics, one can hardly move to the US for however long without having a preconceived idea of what that experience is going to be like. Stereotypes! We all have them, whether we like it or not. Never do they become more prevalent than when you actually get to the country and experience it.

Study abroad experiences are one of the best ways to do this; to find out whether your stereotypes are real or just ideas popularized by the entertainment industry. Through study abroad, you are able to really immerse yourself in the culture of a country, because you go to school with people who are your age, but also younger or older. You meet people in their everyday environment and you experience how they are taught certain subjects and morals.

Obviously, I have come to the US during a historically and politically critical time.

I was intrigued right from the start, but also – I am not going to lie – a little afraid. I wasn’t afraid of physical violence, but of certain discussions and mind-sets I may come across here.

One conversation in particular really stuck with me, though, and it inspired this article. It was no longer than a minute, but it showed me that side of the US-American population that scares me. We see it on TV, in interviews with Trump-voters, and sometimes in films and TV-series, but to witness it in person and to have an actual conversation is a whole other level of scary!

I know that a lot of US-Americans have to get through these conversations almost on a daily basis; have to defend their own existence. Never have I felt more appreciation for my home country.

Don’t get me wrong, Germany is in no way perfect and we have some really shitty people getting way too much attention at the moment, too. But let’s get back to this conversation, though.

I don’t remember exactly how it started, because I half-boycotted it as I overheard the word ‘taxes’. Two US-Americans were talking about taxes and how certain aspects such as health care are dealt with differently in Europe.

I chimed in saying that we have free university education and free/affordable health care in Germany. They didn’t seem to be in favor of it and reminded me, “Someone does pay for that, though.”

That is true, of course, so I nodded and said, “Yeah, I know. We pay taxes for that.”

They looked at me as though I had just proven their point, but I could only frown. I said, “Yeah, but I’ll gladly pay those taxes, as do my parents, because that means someone else can go to University for free.” I unfortunately forgot to include health care in that statement, but I doubt it would have changed much.

They both looked at me as though they didn’t believe me. I frowned and turned away, because sometimes you have to pick your battles and it was during a night out. When I get into a political discussion, the night is over for everyone involved, because I am one passionate debater.

Now, to many this conversation may seem like nothing, especially because it was so short. However, it stuck with me, because it struck a nerve. It irritated me.

I don’t want to get into a full-blown political rant right now. However, to suggest that I am more concerned with my own wealth than with the education and health of my fellow Germans (and that includes Germans with a migration background!) is outrageous to me and goes against everything I believe in.

Besides, if I can in any way contribute to the well being of my country and its people then I will do so. Health and education are basic human rights and I will never regret paying taxes for the good of my country. To me, there is no greater kind of patriotism.

However, people keep telling me that I have to see the other side of the coin, have to listen to others’ opinions, have to understand that others grew up differently, were raised with different morals. I do understand that, and because I know that I will never agree with these people, I tend to pick my battles carefully.

So, I promised myself not to get political while being in the US. Has it worked? Of course not.

You can try as you might to stay away from discussions, but if you have an opinion in times like these, you won’t get around discussions or arguments. Know where you stand, know your morals, and if you can, stay open-minded.

It can get difficult and frustrating sometimes, talking to people from a different culture and a very different background and upbringing about topics you are passionate about. This probably goes for those I cannot agree with as well, because they have to deal with stubborn people like me.

You have to figure out for yourself whether you’re on the right side of history or not. I just hope we can all agree that humanity and “love thy neighbor” are two of the priorities we should have.

If you have problems with anxiety when it comes to such discussions, retreat when necessary. Don’t hurt yourself trying to argue with someone who is not going to be swayed in one sitting. These are people you will, hopefully, never see again after your study abroad. Pick your battles and take care of yourself first!

 

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Nuria Hammen

Nuria is a 22-year-old international student from Germany, currently attending school in the Netherlands. She spent a semester studying in Laredo, Texas during high school, and in January 2017, she’ll return to America to study for a semester in Pensacola, Florida. She’s a passionate world traveler with a committed desire to learning about different cultures, languages, and all of the countries that make up our world.


2 comments

  1. Great article. Felt the same thing before I went on exchange to Mississippi. Obviously impossible but you definitely need to choose your debates carefully, not everyone is as welcoming of having a discussion.

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