When I was little, my elementary school’s mascot was a mallard. There were other elementaries around at the time with mascots like foxes or pandas or muskrats – look it up. When the student population pooled together as we rose to middle school, I knew I was a Mallard. I felt a sense of pride about it, I think. For years to come I’d keep friendships with other students just because we’d grown up together, which is the kind of bond you really miss once you grow up.
After middle school came high school. Again I felt a strong sense of loyalty to this community I’d been thrown into. I think I felt it more because, being active in Marching Band, Quizbowl, and multiple sports, I often visited and competed with neighboring high schools. Even now that I’ve graduated, even though my friends and I often bemoan those final years we spent in those halls, only wanting to move on, I still feel strongly about it. It’s similar to how you feel about family; I might complain about something my cousin did, for example, but the second that someone outside of my family says the smallest negative thing about him, they’re going to have answer to me.
Even this year, studying at the University of Michigan and getting to live and work closely with people from all over the country, all over the world, I didn’t feel American. Sure, I felt my identity grow again; this time, I felt strongly about being a ‘Michigander’, as well as being a student at the University of Michigan – Go Blue! – but that feeling of being American didn’t come until I voted, participated in marches on campus, and, most importantly, actually left the country.
Being in Europe, working on such an international campus, and speaking closely with the students here, has made me feel more conscious than ever about what “American” might make others think of. There are some uncomfortable assumptions, but as a harmless example, many people assume that I’ve been to New York City – that all Americans have visited at some point. I’ve only been to New York once, and that was a side trip over the Canadian border to visit Niagara Falls. (A fantastic trip, but not the same place as New York City.) Students would talk to me about politics; they were not shy to ask me bluntly about my opinions on a variety of subjects, and if I didn’t have one, they would supply their own.
My point is, outside force is what drives us to cling to the groups we’ve found. It solidifies them, creates them, whether we realize it or not. It wasn’t until I left the United States that I realized I felt strongly about being American. And that doesn’t mean that I agree with every American on every issue – that would be impossible. What it means is, I realize now more than ever where I’m from, what I’m lucky about and what I missed growing up, and my responsibilities now. As an American hoping to live in an international world, I’m going to be representing my country. I need to be globally aware, as well as informed on what’s going on within my own borders. Ignorance is no excuse, not when we can access all information imaginable with the tap of a few keys on a laptop or phone.
And one final lesson: there are some parts of your identity that you didn’t chose but will remain always. In the end, you need to shape yourself into the kind of person that you want to be. You can’t please everyone, so you may as well please yourself. What some people see as friendly and relaxed, others will see as unprofessional and uncultured, and others yet might still think that you’re too reserved. And remember, opinions that people have of you are not formed in a vacuum. They are influenced by those people’s own backgrounds, their own ‘normal’, and their own expectations. If we try and understand why people think the negative things that we do, we can come to a peace with it and move on with our own lives.
Unrelated Side Note: Bastille Day!
For the 14th, one of the interns with family in France hosted the interns at her counrty house. It was so much fun, so relaxing, and one of the highlights of the trip. We swam, ate, and went into the nearby town to watch their fireworks. It reminded me so much of the 4th back home. (See, it is related to identity!)
Photos du Jour
Resting on the bank of the Seine near Notre Dame.
The rising sun behind the steeple of Mont Saint-Michel.
That’s it from Jouy-en-Josas for now.
À bientôt ! See you soon!