[Disclaimer: I wrote this today before I read about the children attempting suicide in U.S. internment camps for illegal immigrants. Have not been good at reading the U.S. news since I have been abroad. I apologize– I guess I’ve been away long enough that I forgot how messed up America is. This article was VERY poorly timed.]
I arrived to the Czech Republic with my rose colored glasses on. After having lived my entire life in the United States, I had grown tired of it. I overlooked many of the natural rights the country provided for me, and I thought that surly anywhere in Europe would be a happier and more comfortable place to live.
Don’t get me wrong– Europe is a wonderful place. But spending this summer abroad has definitely made me more aware of how wonderful America is too. Below are some differences between the Czech Republic and America. These differences in living may sound small, but are opening my eyes to the way countries differ on a fundamental level.
1. There are also many social issues that I was not aware were prominent in Europe. LGBTQ acceptance for example, as well as discrimination against outside nationalities, and gender inequality in the workplace. As these can be very controversial/political topics, I won’t discuss them in detail. However, America is not as behind as I thought they were in terms of fighting for equal rights for all. Please do not think that I am unaware of the existing social issues the U.S. is harboring.– I am very conscious of and concerned about them. However, I am realizing now that our country is lucky to have people that care about these existing issues, and are fighting to make them right. Other countries are still working on identifying them as issues.
2. One of my first observances here in Prague was that everybody walked– even people that looked like they shouldn’t be walking anymore. At first, I credited it to the country just being overall healthier. “This isn’t America and people can walk because they lead more active lifestyles and don’t overeat.” Then, I realized that it’s more likely that people walk because they have no other choice. The Czech Republic, along with the rest of Europe, is not very Handicap accessible. Citizens who cannot walk may have to travel miles in order to find a form of public transportation they are able to board. There are also many businesses they do not have access to. The Czech Republic has some serious infrastructure work to do.
3. Being that currently, my only source of income is my minimum wage part time job at the Pitt News, I have to pinch pennies. And one of the ways that I am used to doing so is always ordering water at restaurants. That method is of no use here though, as a glass of water is not free at restaurants. Now, having to pay a dollar or two is not a significant financial burden. But having to pay for it while abroad is going to make me appreciate my free water a lot more in America. In contrast, American service is generous and kind. When you’re a paying customer in the U.S., any request you have (within reason) will be met. Businesses dedicate massive amounts of time and resources ensuring that customer experience is pleasant. In Europe, that does not appear to be the case. You even have to pay to use the majority of available public restrooms. Modifications to orders or receiving “free” perks for being a paying customer are unlikely expectations to be met.
Much like a company sticks to its mission statement, living in Prague has opened my eyes to the ways America sticks to its promise of freedom. Yes, the U.S. still has long ways to go in terms of making it a free place for everyone, but it has a lot to be proud of. My international experience has shown me that perhaps I have been glorifying other geographic locations by only focusing on their positives, and being ignorant of their flaws. I am coming to realize that all parts of the world have their pros and cons just like my home country.