I know, the timing is terrible. It’s July 3rd eve, and in Boston, that most patriotic of cities, it’s already July 4th; the time to be crooning the “Star-Spangled Banner” while guzzling Sam Adams, not trying (unsuccessfully!) to escape the USA. But man, modernization makes it incredibly difficult to get the much-touted “immersion” that studying or doing research abroad is supposed to be.
After all, I would never have imagined leaving home without wi-fi-enabled and English-speaking gadgets in tow…how could I live without filling my eyes with American books or my ears with American music? My heart with American emails and American Google Hangouts and American Facebook updates from American friends? Such that after emerging from the depths of an American paper in an American journal, or an American iPad game or American YouTube video, I am momentarily confused to hear unaccented Spanish outside the window.
Wait, what? Where am I…?
But there is a more insidious type of forgetting. This means going to Costco (an American company) and marveling that it looks exactly the same as every Costco north of the Rio Grande, and is even stocked with all my favorite Kirkland Signature products. Turning on the TV; it’s on mute because the baby’s sleeping, and suddenly I can’t even tell the show is Mexican because the actors all look American with their light skin, light hair, tall and skinny figures. The ads on the street are for American movies, the clothes on people’s body’s feature American brands.
I really thought the Hollister seagull would stop haunting me after high school… but, I guess not.
Once upon a time when I suggested the idea of moving to another country to my mom, she shot me down immediately–not because I could not adjust to living in a different (English-speaking!) nation like the UK or Australia or Singapore, or even to a non-English speaking country like China or Korea or Spain, but because think of my children! Think of all the benefits of hegemony which they would lose, that a majority of Fortune 500 companies and top universities and the bulk of Billboard hits and bestsellers are still birthed in the U.S. of A.
How dare I take from them the dream of going to Harvard and force them to settle for some unknown university in the Southern Hemisphere, or anywhere close to it?
But I would like my children to have a different dream.
I would like the beauty of this country to be shared with the world.
And not just this physical, rooftop sunset beauty, but the cultural and historical and spiritual beauty. I would like to overhear brands from all over the world mentioned as my coworkers discuss Cloud storage options…that somehow other nations’ competitors would carve out a space in the market occupied by Dropbox and Google Docs and Skydrive. That somehow brown would really be beautiful, that tall and stick-skinny with giant boobs (granted, perhaps a physique stolen from Brazil or Ethiopia that most Americans also do not naturally fit) would cease to be the international norm of beauty.
For more Pan’s Labyrinth‘s and more Kimbra’s and Spotify’s and taco trucks–who knows, maybe English will adopt from some other language a less awkward answer for pluralizing proper nouns. (and referring to gender-neutral third persons) (seriously, “they”?? what is that?!)
But in the meantime, I sadly have to fight to experience this immersion. Peel myself from these piles of English words and dive into flashcard decks and Ximena Sariñana and maybe change my social network languages to español. Maybe I’ll even round it all out with an icy bottle of Negro Modelo from the little shop next door to our host family’s apartment; after all, I’m pretty sure beer on Independence Day is probably a good custom to adopt the world over.