What Does American Mean to you? (July 4, 2019)
As we celebrate the 4th of July aka Independence Day, a patriotic American holiday, Nextpat talks to a Third Culture Kid (TCK) about what being American means to her, as someone who grew up overseas and came to America with a different perspective on being a global citizen and American.
--What do you think of when you think of the phrase “American”?
--How did you celebrate July 4th overseas, how is that different from celebrating it in the U.S.?
A few quick history reminders:
-The Declaration of Independence was signed on 2 July 1776, but broadsheets took time
to print and distribute nationwide, so most citizens heard of it on 4 July 1776, when we currently celebrate the Declaration. You can still see one of the originals at The National Archives in Washington, D.C.
-The Declaration enumerates grievances against the King of England (see “Hamilton”) and declares the United States of America to be sovereign in its own right – it contains what would eventually be used as the basis for what are considered “American ideals” – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
-John Adams hoped that the holiday would be “…solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
--Notably, the U.S. is one of few places that celebrates the democratic idea of coming to a consensus and a decision, not winning something solely by military might. One reason for parades at many international independence days is this fight for freedom – which came after the Declaration of Independence in the U.S.
Side Note: If you have not watched the absolutely absurd and wonderful musical 1776, it will make all of this clear in not quite historically accurate renderings, but wonderful verse.
Now, on to the show!
I’d like to introduce you to Rebecca Fetterolf, who returned to the U.S. three years ago. She will head to 8th grade this September and is nearly 13 years old. Before she returned to the U.S., at the age of 10, she had lived in Moscow, Russia, Oxfordshire, England, and Vienna, Austria. She’s seen much of Europe and misses the ease of travel (including with school) to nearby countries like Spain and France. She’s also an actress with a passion for theater, who’s just completed her second middle school musical. While overseas, Rebecca lived on an American Base and her parents worked at the U.S. Embassy; today she lives on a horse farm in Maryland and spent the first 18 months after her return home with her sibling and mom, as her dad was on a hardship deployment! She was kind enough to share her story with us regarding her thoughts on Americans, July 4th, and returning to the U.S.
Side Note: Nextpat will be kicking off a series this summer, in collaboration with Ms. Kim Adams, a coach in Oman, focused on children’s adjustment. We’ll be discussing finding community activities, how to integrate into a new school, and will be putting up a back-to-school culture guide!
Q: What do you think of when someone says “American”?
A: When someone says they are American, I usually think that they must have a similar life to me. They most likely speak English, and I sometimes question if they have ever been outside the US. Most of my friends at school haven’t ever been outside the US, only to the surrounding states.
Q: How did you celebrate July 4th overseas?
A: We spent some of our 4th of July’s visiting family in the states. While living in Moscow, they would do picnics at the Embassy, in England they set of fireworks on the base. That was my favorite. In Vienna, we went to a big party at the ambassador’s house.
Q: How do you celebrate July 4th in the U.S.?
A: I prefer celebrating in the US because I am with my family and I get to enjoy it with them. We usually go to the beach house and watch fireworks over the water and eat seafood. I like how everyone gathers to watch large fireworks light up.
Rebecca visited family in New Jersey and Pennsylvania during summer breaks, but had never been to DC. We asked her a bit about being an American in the U.S. and being an American overseas – here’s what she had to say.
Q: How did you relate to your American identity when you were overseas?
A: Whilst I am overseas I think my family and I are different. All the other people in that country are locals, speak the same language, and know everything there is to know about it. When we lived in the UK, I thought I was British. Family say I learned to speak with a British accent and I went to a British prep school. I still love England very much and visit friends there.
When I moved to Vienna there were many Americans in my neighborhood and I went to the American school. We learned German though, and celebrated holidays there. I wore a dirndl for special occasions. Being American in a different country also makes me feel special, and I know how lucky I am to be in all these different places during my lifetime.
I used to think Americans were all very patriotic. Living on a US base there were many military uniforms and having many friends whose parents worked with my parents at the embassy made me think everyone worked there. On base they played the anthem every day. I thought Americans were nice, respected everyone and treated everyone fairly.
Q: How do you perceive "American" now that you are back?
A: When I moved to the US, I was surprised that school does not get as many vacation breaks as in England and Austria. We don’t even get spring break in my school! We also do not have Christmas markets or Easter egg trails. There are many types of food that I can’t get here in the US. My school does not really celebrate things like my old schools did. We don’t wear uniforms like my old school. We don’t go on class trips like my old school. In England, my friends travel to France and Spain with school, and I don’t like missing that. My friends in Vienna travel to other countries to play sports and sing. I think America has lots to see, but I don’t think my friends at school think that. I like traveling to see places with my family here too.
When my family returned to the US, I felt foreign because once I started to make friends, they knew nothing about the places I lived, and didn’t know any of its history. Everyone seemed to know about popular music and events that took place in the US. It was also weird that no one had accents or spoke different languages. They were all the same. My friends do not know what the embassy is, and we don’t celebrate United Nations Day like we did at my old school. I did not know the pledge, but I learned it very quickly!
We thank Rebecca for sharing her story. If you want to pursue a structured approach to discovering what being American means to you, how you perceive it, and how to tell your story - join our reorientation classes!
This story was updated in December 2019. Some of the links are Amazon Associate links, though Nextpat no longer participates in the program - and will receive no compensation for purchases made through the website.