Travel. That one word brings many images to mind. Beautiful locations and amazing times, new foods and different people. But that word could also bring to mind learning experiences. The experiences that travelers go through teach them lessons and form them into the people they later become.
It was during a trip to London via World Strides, that I had encountered a place that confronted my perspective on myself and America, and had changed it dramatically:
I looked at St. Paul's Cathedral in awe. I loved, still love, European architecture. The tour guide, a friendly, knowledgeable woman with gray hair and glasses, directed us to a statue in front of the cathedral. Attached to the monument's base were statues of women, which represented countries. On top of the base was the main statue, one of the queens of England. The tour guide explained the queen's life, and before we continued on, she pointed to one of the statues on the base.
"See that statue, all bare-chested and with feathers in her hair? She represents the New World. Londoners thought the women in the Colonies dressed like that!" She laughed in a joking way.
But I did not think it was so funny. A feeling of melancholy swept over me, a feeling not unfamiliar to me. It seemed like everyone always looked at the United States wrongly. It was like the whole world hated America at times. Apparently we always butted in arrogantly, leaving other nations to hate us and think of us as bossy, prideful. At least it seemed like this in history class. That was how it was taught this year, even though the teacher probably did not want to leave such a strong impression. I am quite sensitive, though, so I guess I took it too personally.
We moved inside and were soon surrounded by architectural beauty. We went throughout the cathedral, the tour guide explaining as we went. We eventually went to the back wall, where there was a large book in a glass case. The group and I surrounded this book, and the tour guide explained that during World War II, Hitler heavily bombed London. Although St. Paul's cathedral had survived the attack, the back wall of the cathedral was destroyed. When that section was rebuilt after the war, the British government set up a memorial for all the American soldiers who had fought beside them. The memorial consisted of the book, with the handwritten names of the soldiers, and a wall with wooden carvings of American plants and animals. I looked around, awed by Britain's token of thanks. The self-deprecating image melted away as I started to feel warm. Touched by Britain's gesture, I kept on thinking, "They really don't think of us like that."
It was then that I realized that my current view was false. England was glad that we helped out. They respected us. There may have been times that other counties were annoyed by us, but not every individual in the nations had the same view of America. Some people did not think badly of the United States, like I do not think badly of other countries. There are of course people who do dislike America (I cannot deny that), and there are people here who do and do not deserve it. Yet that is the same in every country. So I should not be bothered if only a few people hate America, and if I ever get confronted with one of them, I will just remember the memorial in the cathedral, and the big book in the glass case.
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