I don’t think there is a soul who wouldn’t admit that Americans are privileged in the world. We’ve been a consistent superpower and everything we do, be it our approach to wars to what we buy, impacts the world we live in. And more often than not we have little to no idea how much or how the rest of the world even views us.
When they draw you in for tourism what they don’t tell you is that you aren’t actually experiencing the country or area you are in. You’ll see the landmarks, the palaces, the museums, you’ll study the culture from an intellectual point of view, but you probably won’t experience the awkwardness of being a true foreigner developing relationships with the locals.
When I got to Scotland I experienced more awkwardness in simply trying to get used to being in someone else’s house then I did awkwardness from culture shock. I had prepared myself mentally for it, but it never really came. Chalk this up to being in the “mother country” and maybe due to my studies in cultures and intercultural communication. Most likely there just isn’t enough difference to really feel it in the way that I might if I were going to say, Russia, or like my brother has done, China.
But what I have experienced most is the perspective of another westernized country, and sometimes even other westernized countries depending on who I meet. It has led me into conversations critiquing and analyzing the great ol’ US of A in a way that can only be done from across the pond. Of course they hold back at first. They never really know where I stand when they simply hear that I’m American. But upon conversation they start to feel comfortable enough to let you have it.
That’s why I decided to start this “mini series” in my own blog. I had toyed around with multiple ideas on conveying some of the things I’ve experienced in this arena, but this method seems to make the most sense, seeing how there is only one month left of my extended vaca.
She blinked when she looked at me, kind of confused. “You know, in Denmark he’d be considered conservative.”
We’d been talking about the presidential election. Like most people she had asked a simple question to see where I stood as an “American.”
“Do you like him?”
Well-not that I think he’s perfect, but I think he’s a much better fit for a population as diverse in America. Yes, I prefer Barack Obama to Mitt Romney, who thinks 47% of Americans are lazy when really we just live in a broken system that only provides for the rich who are well-educated and can already fend for themselves. This led us onto his “Obamacare” Act and discussions about how really that’s as close as we’re gonna get to universal health care at this point. He’s considered liberal and by some, a socialist.
But did you know in Denmark they are paid to go to school?
Yeah, you heard me.
“That doesn’t make any sense that they would charge you that much to go to school. So they charge people that much knowing that they can’t afford it? How does anyone go to school?”
“I know, it’s ridiculous. Well, everyone ends up taking out school loans unless you’re lucky enough to have parents who make enough money to pay for you to go.”
“So you take out loans to pay tens of thousands of dollars? And then what? What if you can’t get a job good enough to pay that off? You’ll spend your entire life paying that off! ”
In Denmark they pay enough taxes that anyone can go to school for free, and also get paid to do so. But don’t get freaked out just yet on how much they get taken out of their salary-they’re minimum wage is also higher to compensate for the higher taxes. And I’m sure the tuition is capped, anyway.
I can’t pretend to be savvy enough to know all approaches to tuition in the world abroad. I’m really not that world savvy anyway, to be honest. Denmark is the only one I’ve come across that covers the cost of tuition and pays the students while they’re in school. But what I have seen a lot of is dropped jaws when I quote the prices of universities in the states. My Italian friend, my British friends, and my Scottish friend on Phantassie nearly didn’t believe me that if I had taken the traditional courses at the school I went to (I went through a different program) that it would have cost $35,000 a year. Another American on the farm was paying $50,000 a year for his education. These prices were blowing their minds. And on top of that, it seemed many of them had better federal loans and grants that the States have.
This conversation with my Danish friend and writing this blog post led me onto a little google search. An interesting article was published by Higher Education Strategy Associates giving a synopsis on how different countries higher education systems work and whether they’ve experienced any increase or decrease in barriers into higher education. It appears that the USA was the only country to both increase tuition while simultaneously decreasing assistance. I didn’t read the entire article, but it also appears that our tuition is significantly more expensive than most other countries. By around $20,000, from just the few countries I skimmed over. That’s no small difference. It seems that many are government regulated keeping the prices down.
Again, not an expert. Just interested to learn about the world.