Life Lessons and Random Observations
Through the Eyes of a Newly Minted American
In only the way kids can, my girls will not let me forget they have been Americans longer than me. Without fail, any mention of nationalities, travel, etc. brings the aforementioned response. “Even though mommy is older than us, we have been Americans for a looooong time, longer than her!”
This past summer, they had several occasions to bring it up, since I celebrated my first anniversary as an American citizen. I grew up inKenya and came here about 15 years ago in pursuit of higher education.
As we celebrated this milestone, I couldn’t help but take stock of what I have learned and how it has helped me to succeed. I would love to share my observations with you.
Americans, including me now, are nothing like what I’d envisioned when I was a little girl running barefoot to school. One year, an American youth group, including a group of basketball players, came to my school on a mission trip. I recall the shock when one guy stood up. He wasn’t standing on a stool but was actually that tall. In awe, I thought, They are so strong, so handsome and so cocky. Through the years, I’ve come to define this as “self-confidence.” It’s critical to being able to succeed in any endeavor. I’m guilty of it, and I love it.
Depending on their origin, most newly minted Americans are pros at bargaining. Back in Kenya, bargaining or haggling is an essential skill passed on to children through observation and hours of practice at the local markets. I love to haggle, asking things like, “Is that the final price?” It’s a skill all Americans should re-learn and practice a lot.
The freedom of choice available to everyone still astounds me. We have real options. If A doesn’t work, move to B. If B doesn’t work, move to C. You get the idea. I’m not sure how real this is to everybody else, but it’s a reality worth looking into. There is a reason that it’s called “the land of freedom and opportunity.”
Experience is Key, But Include Your Reference Points
In any new situation, experience is a great asset. But I’ve learned to also define the parameters of that experience, especially while making comparisons. Based on the feedback I have received, I now understand the puzzled, and sometimes shocked, looks I get in reaction to the following statements.
- I had a very small wedding back in Kenya—about 700 to 800 people. Most of my husband’s family could not travel from England.
- All my lower elementary classes were rather small—35 to 40 kids each.
- My 30-minute walk to school was very short. Many kids had to walk an hour each way.
Finally, as a newly minted citizen, one of my most prized possessions is my blue American passport. It allows me to travel with ease, and it gives me the chance to enrich my kids’ lives. They can experience how the rest of the world lives. They’ll learn we do have options here, but there are other options out there, too. There are other ways of doing business or being successful in life.
I love my new country, and I love the opportunities it affords me. But I’m glad to have experienced life in a different environment. It gives me more reference points and makes me appreciate what I have so much more.
Question: How does this change your perspective of our lives as Americans?