If I lived in…
- Thailand—I would be in prison.
- China—I would lose all of my Snapchat streaks.
- Germany—I would have failed 8th grade.
- Namibia—I probably wouldn’t be alive.
My parents are firm believers in experiential learning, which is why I spent five months during 8th grade world-schooling on a cheap laptop wherever I could find WIFI. This was not a five-month vacation in fancy, all-inclusive resorts. It was authentic travel featuring public transportation, hostels, and street food. I can’t recall any of the online lessons I learned through “Rosewood Academy,” my homeschool cover, but my real-world education will never be forgotten.
In our country–where so many people are divided over racial and socioeconomic issues–we often overlook the privileges that all Americans possess. If you’ve never traveled beyond the borders of our country, or your travel has been limited to resort destinations, then it can be easy to focus on what is wrong with our nation. However, even with our issues, the United States is still far better than just about anywhere else.
EXAMPLES OF OUR AMERICAN PRIVILEGES
Freedom of Speech
Thailand and China gave me a new appreciation for freedom of speech. In China, we couldn’t get on Facebook, Snapchat, or even our personal blog because the government blocks these forms of social media.
In Thailand, insulting the king can land you a spot on the next episode of Locked Up Abroad. Coming from a country where bashing the president (no matter who is in office) is a national pastime, I had never really understood the magnitude of freedom of speech.
Freedom of Religion
In Muslim countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, my parents required my sister and me to wear long pants and modest tops, despite the vicious heat, due to religious norms. American fashion, while popular back home, is not always welcomed abroad. Ironically, our most “Christian” moment was when we visited a Baptist Church in Malaysia.
I was fortunate that through homeschooling, I was able to continue my 8th grade education while exploring the world. However, many countries, like Germany, do not allow homeschooling. Americans so often see European countries as having all of the freedoms that we do, but that is not always the case.
Furthermore, many countries around the world do not provide free education for its children. If the parents cannot afford to pay the school fees, the children don’t attend school. These children have no way to break the cycle of poverty in which they are trapped.
While road-tripping through Namibia, my sister came down with a scary ailment that resembled meningitis. After a tense, glitchy phone consultation with a U.S. doctor, we were given the prognosis that if she weren’t dead in twelve hours, she would probably be fine. All we could do was wait in the middle of the desert, hours from the nearest doctor, and pray we didn’t have an empty seat on the flight home.
Also, as an infertility treatment baby, I am especially thankful to live in a country with advanced healthcare. Without it, I wouldn’t be here.
What I’ve Learned
Every country I have traveled to has both educated me and strengthened my love for the U.S.A. more than my AP Government textbook ever could. After six continents and 30 countries, I have become an expert at packing for every climate imaginable in a carry-on suitcase. I have learned how to sleep sitting up for sixteen hours straight. I have learned to hope for the best and brace for the worst, because sometimes you can’t predict being deported from China.
But most importantly, I have learned why living in the United States is the greatest privilege.
There are some things—like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, public education, and advanced healthcare—that you cannot appreciate until you see firsthand what life is like without them. And there’s nothing like visiting the Hoa Lo prison in Hanoi, Vietnam (AKA the “Hanoi Hilton”) where many American heroes spent years as POWs to understand the debt of gratitude and respect that all Americans owe our servicemen and women for the freedoms we enjoy.
In Honor and Memory of our Servicemen and Women
This post is dedicated in Honor of my grandfather, Hollis Russell Flanagan, Jr., who served in the U.S. Air Force; in Memory of my great-grandfather, Hollis Russell Flanagan, Sr., a U.S. Marine who fought in the Battle for Iwo Jima in WWII; in Memory of my grandfather Walter Whorton McIntyre, Jr. who served in the Alabama Army National Guard’s 31st Infantry “Dixie” Division; and in Honor or Memory of all who have served or are serving our great nation.
So, who do you want to thank? Please share and let them know how much you appreciate their service!