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When we talk about the USA today, many would say that it is still considered a land of opportunity while others would criticize it and its moral values without mincing words. It should be noted that in the recent years, America has faced many social problems which have left its reputation questionable. Should people consider it the greatest country in this world and has America proven to be one, or is the whole world just manipulated by its industry whose job is to present its country in the best possible light?
My personal experience in Maryland, USA (a 6-month period) has given me an answer to these questions. While they are mostly based on my subjective opinion, I am assured many people will agree with my views.
As a teenager, I had a wish to explore the world, and student exchange felt like the thing that would help me in my quest. Living in a capitalistic, democratic country, I was taught throughout my childhood that ‘the West’ usually meant more modern and wealthier. That sentence wasn’t innate, but growing up alongside “western industry” (movies, music, books…), I acquired a sense that all things western were the best this world could give us.
After six months in the USA, living with an American host family, I have come up with a strong opinion about this country and its moral values.
To begin with, America likes to call itself the greatest country in the world. Therefore, some Americans see their nation at the top of the world, which presents a modern egoistic view. Consequently, this makes America have little empathy for other countries while people of other nations, just like me, are likely considered as competition rather than friends. For instance, many times in my host family, I was perceived as a rival to my host brother and host sisters because my host mother treated me as an opponent rather than a teenager seeking new experience. Family life which should’ve been full of emotions and nice moments turned into a game of right and wrong. However, this “competition” has its positive side which is best seen in high-school sports. When talking about sports, I would say that the USA has one of the best sport education systems in the world. Every athlete has an equal opportunity to show what they are capable of, and if it’s good enough, offers from colleges will quickly arrive. The sense of constantly competing makes young Americans train in enormous amounts and fight to be the best. Consequently, this puts a lot of athletes in a risk of injury that requires professional healthcare and physiotherapy. Here we meet another problem in the USA – healthcare. If there was one thing that I wanted to avoid in America, it was going to a doctor’s office for any reason. However, quickly after my arrival I suffered a concussion in a soccer match and had to go to the emergency room. Despite having insurance, a process of covering your expenses with a healthcare provider is quite a complicated one and the charges can be enormous. I can only say that everyone can be grateful for an EU system because the one I have experienced is a huge mess and needs reform. While talking about systems in the USA, I forgot to mention the education, and the gun policy.
Firstly, I would like to devote a few sentences to an education system that has many ups and downs. One thing that is great about this system is that a student has a right to pick the subjects he wants to study and accordingly prepare himself for his desired college major. However, this leaves a huge hole in students’ general knowledge and it’s no wonder why an average American can’t show their own country on a world map.
Secondly, the active gun policy in USA was another problem for me to worry about. While a lot of people keep guns in a safe for house protection, some use it against the law and consequently, many incidents happen. How safe is the system? I can’t say, but I can say that I held an M16 within a week of my arrival. If that is a normal thing, that is for you to judge.
In a nutshell, I can only say that my experience has taught me a lot of things. A good American movie isn’t a true representation of their country. It has many opportunities, the best economy in the world, lucrative businesses and excellent sport systems but that shouldn’t be put in front of all the social problems that such a “great” country still hasn’t solved. I met a lot of great and smart people, but they are only one part of the nation. If I was given an opportunity to go study at Harvard or to ever live there earning a six-figure salary, I would politely decline the offer. Life in Croatia is incomparable to my experience in the USA. Therefore, I come to the conclusion that “the West” isn’t often the better side and if something looks nice on the outside, I shall remember that it can have many problems on the inside.
Dominik Prce, XV. gimnazija