What Does it Mean to be American?

As a part of the intercultural competency section of the Online Professional and Academic Learning (OPAL) course, Global UGRADs are encouraged to interview an American and reflect on the responses. Students noted similar themes during their discussions —individual freedom, patriotism, multiculturalism, race relations, work ethic, and family ties. Interview responses and reflections varied widely and covered a lot of ground, with a handful of responses below representing some especially thoughtful takes on what it means to be American.








Josue Sanchez (Kent State University, Honduras) comments on family and American immigrants

Before arriving to the United States, I had one idea what it would be like. However, I found that it is different from what I thought. First, I thought that all Americans were very independent from their families, but I realized that many of the people I met care a lot about their family. Some of them keep a very close relationship with them. I had the chance to be in a cookout with the families of my friends and they showed me how united they are. Second, American culture is more diverse than I ever imagined. I met people from many different countries. Some of them have been in the United States for a long time and others come from families that immigrated two generations before. It is very interesting to see how they still keep traditions from their country of origin. Third, people’s hospitality is what impressed me the most. Most of the Americans I  have met are people who really who show an interest for you. They want me to feel at home and they want to serve. Because of these reasons, I consider that America is one of the best places to live.

Nurgiza Tazhibaeva (Emporia State University, Kyrgyzstan) reflects on the differences between states

My friend’s answers about what she would show about America surprised me. I expected to hear about Chicago’s sights, Hollywood, McDonald’s, Silicon Valley, the Statue of Liberty, hip hop, names of popular singers and influencers. Every state differs from what they would say and what they would show. I knew before that there are lots of cultures in the U.S., but I never thought about diversity. For me, it seemed like they did not like to have this. But, in one month I have seen how they respect other cultures and show interest in learning more. But still, students are used to the diversity of cultures, and for them it is not new. And it seems that most American think, since the USA is considered as a powerful and first-world country, they do not need to go to other countries to explore cultures and the world. Being a patriot is good, but travel broadens horizon and mindset.

Truc Tran (Murray State University, Vietnam) recognizes what young people have in common

After hearing the answers from Rose [a friend], I feel like she and I have the same thinking toward being a citizen of either America or Vietnam. We both love having freedom and having a good job so that we can earn money to make our lives become better in the future. I am surprised that a normal life of an American like Rose is just like the same as my normal life in Vietnam. We are students so we just go to school then go home do homework. One more thing I feel really impressed about Rose is that although she is American, she loves learning other languages like French and Korean. Before asking her, I thought Americans did not like to learn other languages because everybody in the world is learning their language – English – so they would never learn other languages. But now I see my thought is wrong. Some Americans also love learning other languages.