Immigrant Awareness: American Isolation, Social Media, and Brexit

It seems all too obvious that living in another country would, or should, increase our awareness of the world; but I was not prepared for how much it would open my eyes not just about the rest of the world, but about life back at home as well.

Granted, it may just be that life in today’s America affords the luxury of living largely without considering the rest of the world. That’s not good in my opinion. But right or wrong it simply is the way of things. There’s enough going on in America (good, bad, and ugly), that keeping up with it is a full time job. And Americans often have “no need” (or don’t see one) to look elsewhere. Their economy doesn’t hinge on the arrival of refugees in Budapest, or an election in Bogotá.

But after moving to Dublin five years ago one of the things I’m still regularly amazed by is just how little many Americans know about the rest of the world compared to how much the rest of the world closely follows and watches America. And, Americans, before you puff your chest out and get all, “that’s how it should be”, I don’t mean it as a good thing.

Because America’s political and economic machinations greatly affect the economics and policies in the rest of the world, people from other countries follow American elections closely, and have definite (often well-informed, even nuanced) opinions. I’m not just talking about stockbrokers and policy wonks. I’m referring to housewives, bartenders, cabbies, college students, high school students, and people of all religious, ethnic, and social backgrounds. Not so in America about Ireland, or most anywhere else that hasn’t been on CNN or Fox News lately.

In the same way that the rest of the world becomes consumed with “will it be Obama or Romney”, or, “Bernie/Hillary against the hairpiece”, America gets swallowed by its own concerns. Grappling with a union of 50 states, and trying to mesh 300+ million thoughts, ideas, and sets of priorities into one cohesive direction for the future is a laughable concept, and a maddeningly dangerous and all-consuming process that sucks the oxygen out of society. And, just as we’re seeing the stitches splitting on the EU thanks to Brexit, I think we are also seeing the casing come off the sausage of America.

But I also think once every generation complex social structures have to ask themselves the really tough questions about what they stand for, and what they believe. It’s ugly, but it’s right, proper, and necessary. It’s dangerous, but it must be done to remind us of what’s at stake. But I also think the way it’s done is changing, and that may be part of the problem.

Where once these internal examinations were just that, internal, they’ve become public spectacles on Instagram, Facebook, and what’s left of, “the media”. And with an increasingly mobile population (in the form of immigrants, refugees, and travelers), we often confront these problems on more than one front. We can simultaneously be pissed off about the state of politics and race relations back at home, while deeply affected on a daily basis by Brexit and the lemming-like status of the EU. We may have friends (made through business, on vacation or online in Egypt or Syria, or another of the world’s, “hotspots”. Those connections and our instant access to “poorly”, or worse, “partially” curated, “news” make it all too easy for us to have stakes in many places.

Now, living in a smaller country that tends to be much more politically aware, I’m a bit mortified to see that many Americans (including myself when I lived there) tend to be mostly unaware of the rest of the world. It’s something that I think should be actively railed against (through travel and cultural exchange); but having moved away, I now understand that it comes from a place of privilege. It’s that way because it can be. America has a lot to offer. Yet one of the downsides is that it’s so big (and has so much) that it also offers the luxury of not having to look outside of itself.

As immigrants, particularly if we live in a small country, we tend to be hyper-aware of world politics because we have to be. With regard to their new home and their old home, immigrants, of necessity, tend to be fairly aware folks. But, I think we are also treated to a view of home that nobody but someone in our situation can possibly understand.

As immigrants we are no longer simply/cleanly/clearly “from” anywhere, and we may never fully assimilate into the culture where we live. As a result, being neither “from” nor “of” any one place, we have twin views as outsiders, and slightly skewed insider perspectives on two places. And that can be both good and bad.

The world is changing quickly, and as active and engaged parts of the new mobile diaspora, immigrants have both the privilege and the burden of multiple perspectives. We have a lot that we care about, and a lot to worry us.

Pax,
Glenn K.
Dublin, July 2016

Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:

Hobbies and Activities: Reinventing Yourself By Engaging With Your New Home

About Glenn Kaufmann

I'm an American freelance writer, photographer, and web publisher. I specialize in writing about travel, food, arts, and culture. I also write dramatic scripts for stage and screen. I'm based in Ireland.
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15 Responses to Immigrant Awareness: American Isolation, Social Media, and Brexit

  1. Alice says:

    As always, very well said!

  2. Cristian says:

    Always great to read you, my friend. Your blog also remind me of an article from The Atlantic about the use of the term “America/American”. Take a look: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/what-does-american-actually-mean/276999/. Greetings from the Midwest!

  3. Kevin says:

    Hi Glenn,

    Enjoyed this post but I have one small correction. Current U.S population is about 320 million. It was about 200 million in 1968. 🙂

    I think this is my first comment on your blog since we moved here last October. My wife, four cats and I arrived in Tralee on October 8 where we’ve been living since. Nice to finally being in the same time zone–not to mention on the same island too–with you!

    Kevin

  4. Mark Partridge says:

    Given the current political climate here in the States, I relate strongly to the joke: “My desire to stay well-informed is at odds with my desire to stay sane.”

  5. Christine Ogan says:

    Good perspective Glenn–and one I share. Travel alone won’t solve this problem–unless it is extended travel and reinforced with new travel from time to time, however. Too many people just drop into a country, stay a short while, and return to the U.S.–without ever getting to know the people, their history and culture and their relationship to the rest of the world Hope that the future of our country allows Americans to better understand that we are not the center of the universe.

  6. Joanne Gaget says:

    Great article! Couldn’t have said it better myself….An American in Edinburgh by way of France!

  7. Just a piece on Brexit.Even though I live in Ireland, affairs in England are still in my thoughts. My family were mostly leave voters and are spread out across England.General vibe was sick of European Union. Couldn’t believe so many didn’t vote.No vote,no choice.Was very impressed in Ireland with a lot of people getting out on the streets in protest against water charges,did my bit joined the protest.But we can all become insular,hardly ever watch television and newspapers for the sport mainly.Can tell you more about news in in Phillipines, through work colleagues, and Poland through lads at the gym.Brother in law is very into politics,member Anti Austerity Alliance.Tag along with him when he asks me.Buti often think of America being a place far away.Funniest thing I have seen this year was my Irish friends reaction to a French tourist who insisted that the Republic of Ireland was in the UK.Nothing violent but a big lecture.Your blog is excellent by the way.

  8. amy says:

    Perhaps I’m just weary, but as an American in place it feels nigh impossible to find true journalism from which to build an informed position about things INSIDE my own country, much less outside.

    • Amy,

      I agree.

      These days I think we can’t rely on any one source, and have to build a personalized consensus view based on multiple sources (or “inputs” – if you’re one of those techies).

      Cheers (and chin up),

      -GK

  9. Daniel Smith says:

    Ireland is the third country I’ve lived in now and for one thing, living in a different country certainly opens your eyes to the rest of the world. It’s amazing how different a culture can be even when they speak the same language. Having grown up in Melbourne, Australia I spent a few years living in the UK and each country has their own quirky ways of doing things. I’m done with moving countries now though and am proud to call Ireland my home.

  10. Mary Ann O'Donoghue says:

    The feeling of place is an interesting one. I’ve been feeling this schism since moving from NJ to GA thirty years ago, my first experience of being a yankee! Not only are Americans, in general, not highly aware of other countries, they’re largely ignorant of regional differences within their own country and seem to mock and laugh at the stereotypical differences they notice. I also think this is not unique to America.
    Moving to Ireland was even more of an eye opener and now I really don’t know how to reply to ‘where are you from’ and in many cases people just want to know where I’m currently living. It’s been an interesting journey for me and people’s perceptions of the world around them is probably my biggest fascination. I enjoy your blog and hearing you’re sensitive perceptions of what you encounter. Fair play!

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