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Four Years at the Mount

Junior year

Tale of Two Countries

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

(7/2015) I am currently on my 18th day in Bulgaria as I sit down to write this article, and it seems a little strange that I am immersed in the culture over here, about to write about why I'm proud to be an American as we approach Independence Day.

I am mainly in the towns of Plovdiv and Assenovgrad on a CULP Deployment with ROTC. CULP is a culture immersion program and an acronym for Culture, Understanding, and Language Proficiency. We are functioning primarily as a CELT team - meaning Cadet English Language Training Team (more acronyms, I know). Essentially, our mission here is to work with officers and NCO's in Bulgaria's 4th Artillery Regiment, as a part of their English Language Training. They must reach a proficient level in order to obtain promotions to a higher rank. We teach in teams in the mornings and spend the afternoons partaking in various cultural activities.

There are very obvious differences between Bulgaria and America - to begin, Bulgaria is a second world country, so although it does not appear to be impoverished at first glance, most of the extreme poverty is covered up by well built cities and the small percentage of wealthy and well-travelled areas. It is beyond this surface, where the real differences come to light, but interestingly enough, it is beyond this surface where the similarities arise and I experience true culture.

The theme of our trip and the message that we keep receiving from our cadre members is that one only needs to scratch the surface to realize that we are not so different from each other. When I heard this on the first day I did not realize how true it would be. We, as Americans and Bulgarians, live in different style homes, but have the same family structures inside; we wear different military uniforms, but in a few short weeks I've learned that none of these soldiers would ever leave any of ours behind and we really are not so different at all.

Now I would like to pause and offer my usual "please don't take any of this the wrong way" that I always seem to have to add. This is an article about why I am proud to be an American, right? Why am I writing about the equality and beauty of another country?

It took me a minute to answer this myself since I knew where I wanted this to end, but not how to explain it. But now after this past week of truly forming friendships and relationships with our Bulgarian counterparts that I know will last, I realize that the fact that I can say that is the reason in itself why I am so genuinely proud to be an American. I have the incredible and beautiful freedom to be in Bulgaria right now, to write about how great I think it is, and to know that, when I return home, my friends and family will want to know all about the culture and the people. I can go home and know that our military will continue to support theirs and vice versa. This all gives me reason to be not only proud, but also thankful.

All too often, the image of America, both around the world and in discussions in our own country, becomes skewed by the fast food style of living, the materialistic lifestyle of some of our rich and famous, the latest scandal in Hollywood, or an act of bigotry and violence that stains the perfect picture that some want to remain convinced that our country is.

Each of the things on this list has a critical role in our culture, some more than others, and some much more serious than others, but after digging a little deeper, I am now convinced that we will find we are not so different from Bulgaria, and America still holds the beauty it should.

I am proud to be an American where I know that beyond the fast paced, fast food, news driven image, our culture is a collaboration of towns and cities that are all incredibly unique in their own right, but not that different underneath the surface. I am proud that I can travel and know that I come from a country that, although we shout and believe that our country is the greatest in the world, knows that our relationships with people and other countries are vital not only to our own cultural experiences, but to our future and well-being as a country.

Here is where it all ties together and my rambling may make some sense: being in Bulgaria has taught me an important lesson about why I am proud to be an American. I am proud to wear my uniform and stand next to our Bulgarian friends who wear theirs, knowing that our uniforms define who we represent, but not who we are, because we have that freedom. I am proud to see a little bit of every culture in our own. I am proud to have found that, just like we as Americans are not so different from Bulgarians, I as a Pennsylvania native am not so different from my team members from Tennessee, Colorado, Iowa, and Texas. I am proud that, in order to form relationships with the Bulgarians, I had to first form relationships with my teammates and in a foreign setting simply being from and serving the same country is enough to do that and more.

So yes, I am proud to be an American where I know I am free, where I am guaranteed an education, where, as a woman I have the same rights as a man, where I can be undeniably myself and can fight for the right to be myself if I ever feel slighted, where I go home to a town that feels like home and where I know I am safe, and so much more. I am proud of my nationality for all of these reasons, but recently, as I hope I have conveyed, I am proud to be an American where at least I know that as we each hold the beautiful title of American, we are also not that different if one only dares to scratch the surface.

I do not know if I needed to be in another country and find similarities in a foreign culture to notice this, or if I could have travelled a few states or even cities over and found that same thing, but I do know that the extremity of the obvious differences between foreign cultures does make it a much more important and valuable lesson when you find the similarities and being in a foreign setting, it becomes very easy and strangely exciting to be with other Americans and meet people who have been to or come from America. I am not completely naVve, as I do understand that once back home it will be all too easy to stay in our comfortable niches, separated by city, race, religion, political affiliation, and more, but I am proud to know that once I get home I will have the enlightening knowledge that I can look at each and every person in whichever category they choose to identify with and know that I share at least one title with every person I come across and that will provide more similarities and connections that some will ever even like to admit.

The theme of our trip is more in the similarities and relationships than it is in any cultural differences. In my usual fashion, I have not quite stayed on topic or answered the prompt directly (I apologize) but I have now listed a lot of reasons why I am proud to be an American. Most of all I am proud to be an American where at least I know at the end of the day I share that beautiful title with a countless amount of people. I am proud to return home 2 days before Independence Day and know that on that day I will be celebrating much more than our independence, but more in the identity that we now all share - simply and incredibly being American.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary