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America the Imperfectly Beautiful

A study abroad participants enjoys the cornfields back home. Photo by Tristen Coffee

This past weekend I traveled to Salzburg, Austria, which was a dream. The timing worked out perfectly enough for me to get to meet up with one of my friends who is doing a study abroad graduate program in Milan. Natalie is living in Italy this semester, I am living in the Netherlands, and we got to see each other in Austria…ah, the magic of Europe. She was talking about how her passport never actually gets checked for validity, because once people see “United States of America” written on it they’re like, “She’s good. We can trust her.” That got me thinking, my passport has not really been used since arriving in Amsterdam. I have been to Belgium, Germany, Norway, and now Austria, and it wasn’t even checked at the airport before security. Is this coincidence or privilege?

If you are reading this, you obviously speak English. I would also venture to say that you are American, English was your first and likely your only fluent language, and you did not have to do anything but be born to gain American citizenship. To any non-Americans reading this: I am glad you’re here. Have you ever thought about how lucky most of us are to have started learning English from day one? Before this trip, I halfheartedly attempted to learn a little Dutch via Duolingo. While I wish I would have been more diligent, I honestly don’t need it here. The majority of Europeans speak their native language, English, and probably at least one other tongue. I am a firm believer that American schools should start implementing foreign language at the elementary level like European schools do; because whether or not you need it to survive in another country, it makes your experience in said country that much richer. Plus, it gets you out of the subconscious American-superiority-complex I think we all fall victim to at one point or another. In a world of online translators, the value of foreign language is all too easily lost. Natalie’s Italian classmate made a valid point in saying, “You learn another language as a hobby, whereas I have to learn English if I want to be successful.” It truly is a universal language. Be grateful that you are a native English speaker, not everyone has that luxury.

While on the Fräuline Maria Sound of Music bicycle tour this weekend (if you ever make it to Salzburg DO THIS), my friends and I got to talking to an U.S. Diplomat who is currently working in Geneva, Switzerland. Never have I met someone who is so proud to be an American. She sits in a room and defends our country to people who have nothing but nasty, slandering things to say day in and day out. She described America as, “the shining city on a hill.” She talked about how, when working in Indonesia, the line to the American embassy was the longest, full of people wanting citizenship. She encouraged us to serve our country in whatever capacity we can.

I am taking a political science class this semester called American Constitutional Development. Baylor requires it, and truth be told I was initially not looking forward to it. Politics are just not my thing. Much to my surprise though, I have loved it, largely thanks to the amazing professors that teach it. Something we have discussed heavily is the fact that part of the beauty of the United States and the First Amendment is that we have the ability to critique our government and the power to incite change when we see something as unjust. Freedom of speech can produce a lot of harm, but also a lot of good.

America is far from perfect, we all know this. It is, after all, composed of imperfect people. There are things that European countries do a lot better than us, and vice versa. However, our country is free, democratic, and extremely developed. Lest we forget how fortunate we are to live in such a nation. Please, fellow Americans, do not take your natural-born citizenship for granted.


About Tristen Coffee

My name is Tristen Coffee (yes, I do drink the stuff). I am a junior at Baylor University studying Journalism and Public Relations. I knew I wanted to study abroad before I even knew what dorm I’d be living in freshman year. I chose the Maastricht trip because of the weekend traveling opportunities. My thought process was: “Who knows if I’ll ever get a chance like this again?” I could not pass it up. I am absolutely stoked for the sights, the food, the people, and the enhanced worldview.

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