I read an opinion piece this weekend about an American woman raising her child outside of the U.S. who was concerned her daughter wouldn’t feel American as she would be raised almost exclusively outside of the U.S. Her solution to this ‘issue’ was to ensure her daughter had plenty of ‘American’ experiences such as celebrating the Fourth of July and visiting Disney World. (You can read the article here.) As I have lived abroad for the past thirty years, I found the article amusing.
In my experience, how many years you’ve lived abroad doesn’t necessarily affect a person’s affinity for their ‘home’ country. I’ve met women who’ve lived more than forty years abroad and raised their children abroad, yet they were overwhelmingly (and somewhat embarrassingly) proud of being American. I’ve also met women who spent mere years outside the U.S. and claimed to be German or Dutch or Danish (or whatever).
Why does one person cling to her native culture while another jumps into a new country and culture? In my experience, the answer of whether a person identifies as an American despite years living or having lived abroad depends on … well … the person. In my loud but humble opinion (and no, those terms are not mutually exclusive), there are a plethora of reasons why someone does or does not identify with being American. This is my, by far not exhaustive, list of factors that influence whether a person continues to identify with their ‘homeland’:
The reason she originally moved overseas. Was it to follow a fellow American spouse or to marry a foreigner? Or simply because she wanted to spread her wings?
Language. Did she learn the local language? Or does she still exclusively speak English after two decades abroad? You can’t properly understand a culture without speaking the local language (and yes, that’s a fact, because I said so).
Cultural Immersion. Does she work for a local company? Or for an international conglomerate? Did she send her kids to the local school or an international school? Does she spend hours researching where to buy American products? Does she long to be back in the US? Does she return to the US at every opportunity?
Open-mindedness. Does she jump into new experiences with new people (including locals)? Or does she cling to other Americans? Is she willing to try new food? Enter into a situation in which she feels completely uncomfortable?
So, dear opinion writer, you can do everything in your power to ensure your daughter identifies as an American, and it still might not matter. Frankly, it’s not up to you (or at least not completely up to you).
Now, you may be wondering where my allegiances, such as they are, lie. At the risk of pissing everyone off (although if you are a regular reader of my blog, I’ve probably already pissed you off a time or two), I align myself more with the Dutch than with my ‘home country’ of America. That said, I will never give up my American passport as I earned that darn thing with my years of military service. Just don’t ask whether I have another passport.