Four things people might not like about the “land of the free”

"You will learn that other people just don't have the freedoms that we have here," she said.


“You will realize that other people just don’t have the freedoms that we have,” said my dinner host as we sat down to eat.

I was young — 22, just out of college, and getting ready to go overseas for a year to work with young people in Sarajevo. I was raising money to cover the expenses for my time overseas, and I had just been connected with what would turn out to be my last donor.

“There are many beautiful places to visit, but the people that live there are not free,” they said. “You will realize this, the longer you live and work outside the United States.”

And so I embarked on my journey, with that idea in mind. As I landed in Sarajevo, I can remember looking for all the ways in which people would be walking around, shackled, wishing for a better life. After a while, I asked my boss what he thought. He dismissed the idea outright, and said, “Jonathan, those kinds of people will never live overseas.”

This was a paradigm shift for me. It may seem like a simple thing, but I had been raised — just like many young Americans — to believe that the United States is undeniably the best country in the world, and that everyone outside the U.S. lives their life trying to get there.

Most people don’t really want to leave their home country, any more than Americans want to leave America.

Over the next several years, I came to appreciate the United States in new ways, but I also gained valuable perspective on how people live in other countries. Here are a few points that I came to realize…

The fields of Pannonia, a plane that stretches through northern Bosnia, Serbia, Hungary, and Romania.

Most people don’t really want to leave their home country, any more than Americans want to leave America.

As I have actually seen a few people leave their home and emigrate to the U.S., the emotions that I have observed have been overwhelmingly bittersweet. Unless one is fleeing from war or persecution, leaving home is never easy. And even if there is conflict, most people believe that war is an aberration and not the norm. They are leaving the place of their birth. Most of the time, they simply wish they didn’t have to go.

Fields in the Pannonian Basin, in Eastern Europe.

People who come to America may like the U.S., but they still love their home country.

Even if life in the U.S. turns out to be successful, most people will still always nurture fond memories of their home country. Wouldn’t you?

Fields and forests in the U.S. have long been covered over with houses and strip malls — a sign of development, but also of loss.

There are plenty of things about America that foreigners – and even some Americans – don’t like.

McDonald’s and QuickTrip on every corner. Starbucks coffee for $5. Shopping malls with huge paved over parking lots. These are things that symbolize everyday, modern life in America. But for most foreigners, the ubiquity of commercial objects is a reminder that this place is not like their original home, and it never will be.

Most people in other countries are not “shackled”.

The vast majority of the world’s citizens will never come to live in the U.S., and yet they do not consider themselves particularly unfree. Their country might not be quite as developed as the U.S., but this usually does not amount to being unfree.

People around the world do desire to obtain better opportunities for themselves and their children, but for many, leaving their home for good is an option of last resort. When we look out at the rest of the world from the comfort of our borders, it is easy to imagine that everyone is clamoring to come in. Some are, and others are not. Reality is complex, and if we want to understand reality, then we must embrace the complexity around us.

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