Today, Americans are celebrating the 4th of July. Parades, community events, family barbeques, and fireworks will be the high point of their day. Some will take time to reflect on our country’s history while others might become sentimental about their patriotism. I, on the other hand, am taking time to reflect on how lucky I am to be an American. It was not until I started visiting the rest of the world that I realized how fortunate I was.
Traveling and living abroad has been an enriching experience that has allowed me to expand my understanding of world history, cultural diversity, food choices, and how people live peacefully and not so peacefully in different countries. Books, magazines, the Internet, videos and TV shows can only provide part of the story. My traveling experiences have added a new dimension to my understanding of the world. For example, touring the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum and then hiking up Mount Vesuvius gave me a totally different perspective of European history. Standing at these notable sites, I understood better the full scope of this devastating event. In India, I observed first-hand how Hindus and Muslims coexist despite their differences and how sometimes their viewpoints escalate into violence. By being open to new foods, I have been able to expand my repertoire of tasty dishes.
The amount of knowledge that I have gained through travel is immeasurable. The above comments are a miniscule sampling. My adventures have simultaneously made me more grateful to be an American citizenship.
Until I stepped out of the comfort zone of suburban America, I did not think much about other places in the world. Sure, I’d read about a variety places and watched random video clips on TV, but I never focused on what it would be like to live elsewhere.
The time that I spent in India opened my eyes to what it is like to live in a Third World country. For 50+ years, I took for granted my home’s electrical and water service. Electricity was a simple flip of a switch. Unless there was a power outage due to a storm or freak accident, I knew that I could use my appliances and lights. This was not the case in India. Rolling power outages would appear multiple times a day. It was not unusual to postpone a meal or to bump into things as I walked in a darkened room. Electricity was controlled at each outlet. Thus, I had to turn on each outlet before I could use the appliance or light. This type of electricity limited the number of electrical appliances. I lived without many modern conveniences such as a dishwasher, an oven, and a vacuum.
Purified water, a basic necessity of life, was not always guaranteed. Tap water could not be trusted and some bottled water was suspect. Whenever possible, I boiled my drinking water. If I wanted to take a shower, I had to wait at least 10 minutes for the water to heat up. Small water tanks were in each bathroom.
Due to the threat of terrorism, I had to open my purse and/or backpack whenever I entered a mall or large public forum. Armed guards flanked the entrances to the airport and also patrolled the inner corridors. Having previously traveled in the Middle East, I realized the necessity for these precautions. However, it only added to my vulnerable feelings.
Teaching at an international Indian school allowed me to see distinct differences in the educational systems. American education critics frequently point out the inequities that are based on socioeconomic factors. While America’s poor may in many cases receive an inferior education compared to their more affluent peers, their opportunities are still far superior to a poor Indian student. The public school system in India was an abysmal mess. People with financial means sent their children to private schools. Without a compulsory education system in place, countless Indian children wandered the streets during the day and rarely attended school.
Equally unsettling was the total disregard for cleanliness and sanitation. Most Indian city streets were littered with garbage and animal feces. Some men openly urinated against public buildings and walls. Employment, banking, environmental protection, and traffic laws that protect American citizens were not part of my new living conditions. Without these protections in place, I realized that my rights would be limited. I was advised to be on guard while I traveled solo at night. In light of the recent attacks on women, I can see the merit of that statement. In all fairness to the criticism lodged against Indian men, women traveling solo need to act prudently.
Yes, I did learn ways to cope with my new environment. Early on, I realized that I had to adapt to my new surroundings and be flexible in my outlook. But as I began to master my new skills, I also developed a new sense of appreciation for my former life in America. Living in the US had enabled me to lead a lifestyle that was luxurious and safer compared to life in India.
By learning to live without the things that I had grown to accept as daily standards, I became more appreciative of my former lifestyle. But isn’t that always the case? People don’t normally realize how fortunate they are until they lose some of the things that they have previously taken for granted.
On this 4th of July, I remember my expat days in India as well as my travels abroad. Without reservation, I can proudly state that I am proud to be an American and am delighted to live in a country that values freedom and enforceable laws. I can rely on an infrastructure that provides comforts and conveniences to all its residents. Had it not been for the colonists who created the underpinnings of the newly formed American government, I would not be able to embrace the free and safe lifestyle that I have today.
I wish all of my followers: Happy 4th of July.
Living Without Regrets (Momster blog on Family Circle Website)
Sandra Bornstein is the author of MAY THIS BE THE BEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE. It is available on Amazon. Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She is a licensed Colorado teacher who has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses. Sandra is married and has four adult sons. The memoir was a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards, the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and received an Honorable Mention award in the Multicultural Non-Fiction category for the 2013 Global ebook Awards.