Friday, April 30, 2010

Why I'm Not Surprised American Expatriates Are Giving Up Their Citizenship

The world is a fascinating place I'm dying to see. I'm easing into world travel, having visited only 2% of the world's countries (according to my Travel Buddy profile) in my 26-something years. Yes, Mexico, Ecuador and the good ol' USA have been graced with my presence. Unlike many Americans who travel abroad, however, I have actually lived in foreign countries, 5 months in Xalapa, Mexico and 27 months in Ecuador. During my 32 months abroad I learned more than local vernacular and customs; I walked away with a different philosophy about life: the American way isn't always/usually the best way. Before you decide to exile me, understand that I love where I live. Yeah, I get emotional when I hear "The Star-Spangled Banner" (especially Whitney Houston's version) but I'm not naive. My experience abroad solidified my realization that America isn't the best country in the world; there is no such thing. Who created the rubric to make the determination that the USA is best, anyway? What I can say is that although we have a lot going for us, us Americans have a lot of cleaning house to do as well.Here are some reasons why we aren't the best.

Citizens of other nations are more politically involved. 

Political stability isn't always a good thing. Let's take the example of Dubya for instance. As a nation we sat back and let that man wreak havoc on our nation, increasing our national debts and sending strong and bright individuals abroad to fight and die or suffer upon return home. We all sat back and cracked out jokes about Dubya, complained about his ulterior agendas and talked about his incompetency, but we never stood up as a nation to say enough is enough. There was never a united movement to have him removed from office for not thinking about the best interests of America. Please don't be fooled into believing this occurs only at the highest levels of government. Most all officials reach out to the public on the campaign trail, promising X, Y and Z. Once sworn in do they uphold their promises? Usually not. What do we do about it? Complain. We are apathetic! Take a look at the list of heads of state in Ecuadorian history. Focus primarily on the 49th president on down to the 55th. Like the USA, Ecuador has a 4 year presidential term. So why did only 6 of the 7 presidents elected in that time frame not complete their terms? Ecuadorians rose up and demanded that officials keep their promises and some didn't make the cut. The Ecuadorian people kept tabs on their officials' conduct and if they were corrupt or ineffective in managing the country they had to not only leave office, but also the country. Talk about getting things done! I know you may be thinking frequent uprisings reinforce the instability of a nation, but things always get worse before they get better. Ecuador is not a perfect nation (there is no such thing), but it is improving drastically. President Rafael Correa was elected for a second term and Ecuadorians are still on his case, assuring he keeps his promises and the best interests of his nation at heart. How could you not respect this from a nation?

Other nations look out for their people

You can tell a lot about people by what they prioritize. Education and health should be right up there with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Period. How can one expect to build a nation dedicated to greatness with a sick and uneducated populace? It was incomprehensible for the world to watch the health care debates that went on in 2009. Economic powerhouse nations in Europe were STDHs (shaking their damn heads) at us. During this time I was in Ecuador on assignment as a Peace Corps Volunteer trying my best to explain to my community what the hoopla was about. No one believed my stories about using the ER as a doctor's office. No one believed how much  medication was marked up. No one believed anything I said. It was simply incomprehensible to them and they pay for health care as well, but they are heading in the direction of adopting a more socialized system.

Along with the recent amendment of the Ecuadorian constitution (yes, they revise it every ten years and the citizens vote on the changes...why don't we try that? Maybe not as frequently, but still) came the decision to make attending a public university a right to citizens. That means it's free, ya'll. Do your best, graduate for high school, pass your entrance exams and your tuition is paid for. All you worry about are books, travel and incidentals. The USA knows that education is important and whatever is important should make money. Come on, folks. It's the American way! As a result, tuition inflation is a hot topic on every campus in America and doesn't look like it will soon erase from the agenda. In fact it has worsened as the cost of attendance increases annually. To add insult to injury, because a Bachelor's degree is the new high school diploma, America is not only seeing an increase in undergraduate admissions but also enrollment in Masters and PHD programs. I'm one of them. If I finish my Masters program in time I will owe almost $80K in student loan debt. Ca-ching...for them, a life of indentured servitude for me! Or I could move to another country and get an education for a fraction of the price even while paying out of pocket. Hmmmmm.

The values that made us great have dwindled

I look back at what families were like in generations past and wonder what happened over the past 40 years in America. Not only did the American family structure completely disintegrate during this era, but also the values that made this nation great. This provokes a chicken vs. egg type of question in my mind. Family, honesty and hard work have been erased from our list of priorities. Everyone is out "to get theirs", completely ignoring the fact that it takes a collaborative effort to create anything worthwhile for our country and world. Americans are victims of the dominating "ghetto nation" mentality, glorifying mediocrity and being ever so impatient and selfish. Where did our values go and how do we get them back? Other cultures value the simple pleasures of life: spending time with family and friends, honoring God and having food on the table.  While some may enjoy those simple pleasures, the vast majority have become beasts of consumption and acquisition of tangibles and attention that are getting us nowhere quickly. We have sold our souls for the dollar bill and have become slaves to it, and our downfall is steeped in this truth.

I can't lie; at times I feel like fleeing this country. However, I realize the grass is always greener on the other side. Like I said earlier, there is no such thing as a perfect place to live, so I'm willing to water my lawn and make the best of life in America...for now, at least.