As an American living in Beijing, I’d like to weigh in on a piece read this evening. In his post today, blogger Mark Manson chronicles the “10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America.” Overall, it is an entertaining and well written piece that begs one to ask the questions “Is America really the greatest place in the world anymore,” and “Does it even matter?”
I agree with some things in his piece, such as #3 “We Know Nothing About the Rest of the World.” It is no secret that many Americans are detached, quite ironically I feel, from the rest of the world. There is an old saying that “If you speak 3 languages, you’re tri-lingual, if you speak two languages you’re bilingual, and if you speak one language you’re a (ready for it???) an American.” In fact, I was just remarking this evening with a group of American students here Beijing traveling as part of an exchange program (more on that in a minute..) that only about 40% of Americans have passports and even less travel abroad to “overseas lands.” I’m glad to have been mostly confirmed on those off the cuff statistics here.
However, despite all the ways in which I think I’m nodding my head at Mark’s points, I’m still thumbs down on the article. Why? I just can’t get over the apathy. He’s given up, saying that he returns to America “only a few times a year” and that he thinks his points will “go on deaf ears.” If those of us that have these global experiences won’t stick up for America, then who will?
I have seen mostly the opposite when engaging with Americans abroad since starting my global journey in 2008. I believe that while the jury may still be out on whether or not America is the greatest country on earth, we can still take it back! Coming from the state of Michigan, I have learned about some of the hardest realities of the current state of America. People are poor, blight runs rampant, and the talented people with job creating capacity are leaving.
But, what if they came back? What if, as my friend Tom Watkins said in his Lansing State Journal Column last year, young people actually boomeranged back, bringing with them in one foul swoop an arsenal of global knowledge and resources.
It can happen. It is happening. I saw it this evening here in Beijing with a group of young American students from inner city schools taking part in a great program called the Jump! Foundation. Jump! is part of a series of programs overseen by Americans Promoting Study Abroad, which collaborates with U.S. high schools to offer scholarships to inner city kids to come learn Chinese in China.
Tonight I participated in my 2nd Young Professionals Panel with the students. These are young but impressive kids. Their questions are inquisitive, and when you talk with them, they sound wise beyond their years. Contrary to the apathetic and ignorant version of Americans elicited in Manson’s column, these kids are well aware of the lack of global knowledge and attention that runs rampant in their communities. After being in China, most of these students described to us how motivated they were to go back home and serve as educators to their friends and family.
And that’s it right there – the American spark of being pioneers to return home and report what we’ve seen. It is that spark that is being ignited across a nation of young globally minded people that have not yet come of age. When they do, it will be amazing to see what we can accomplish as a country. I believe that as generations that have come before, our generation will rise to the occasion to build our nation back up again. It will be people like those young folks I met tonight that will lead the charge.