Doing study abroad in Germany was not my first choice, but it gave me a lot of credits for my Sociology major, so I said yes! But I was a little nervous. Being an American Jew I had faced many instances of anti-Semitism, especially while growing up in a small town. Would it be worse in Germany, or was I being irrational? In fact, I faced no prejudices in Germany as a Jew or an LGBT person. Although, while I lived abroad I gained a new, and especially scary, perspective of America. Here’s what I learned.
We Hold Different Perspectives on the Past. What I learned about Germany during high school World History classes made me think German = Nazi = Bad Guys of the World. It was the only education on Germany I got. When WWII came up in Germany the Germans would say, “But they didn’t know!” To say your ancestors didn’t know there was a Holocaust going on under their noses is ignorant and quite frankly a lie. There are houses, very nice houses, next to the Auschwitz concentration camp. They were there when the camp was sending Jews to the gas chambers and you can see right through the barb wire fences. Yet the people who lived in the houses denied knowing anything. But at least the Germans try and distance themselves from a dark past while still paying tribute to the victims and working to make sure it never happens again.
In America, on the other hand, we just took down the Confederate Flag from government buildings. We have people still flying it proudly, proud of the hatred and racism it stands for. Our history books don’t talk about the genocide of Native Americans. Instead we celebrate the man that took their land (Christopher Columbus Day). We have a slave-owner on the dollar bill, and Americans don’t even bat an eye. Racism is so prevalent in our past, now carried into our present, while the U.S. has never been heavily condemned for these actions. Oh and lets not forget the little known fact that anti-Semitism was rampant in the U.S. during WWII, that we didn’t accept refuges, and that we sent a ship of 900 German Jewish refuges back to Nazi Germany. We would never learn about that in our history books, because the people who write them don’t want to put in America in a bad light. Instead, we embrace our horrid past dark details, claim we’re the best, and point the finger at others.
We have Different Stances on the Current Refuge Crisis. While in Germany I was part of an International Social Work Program. I worked with children of Russian migrants and spoke with refugees about the problems they faced. Germany wants to help and they’re leading the way in international social work and in offering refuge for those who need it.
In America it’s a different conversation. Trump is gaining power through hate speech, saying we need to shut down the border to all Muslims, put the ones here in a database, and continues his Islamophobic banter. I did study abroad before Trump declared he was running for president, but many Muslim people I met assumed I had my prejudices. Everyone watches news about America and the Islamaphobia was apparent. What I learned about Muslim people is that many don’t drink alcohol and they don’t eat pork. So they were equally as happy as me to see veggie dogs as an option whenever we were out. That’s it. I made friends with Muslim people as I would with any Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Atheist or whatever person! To demonize an entire religion is disgusting and yet Trump continues to gain power. He’s doing exactly what Hitler did to rise to power, and it’s scary.
Germany has Free Education. My education abroad was free. BUT I STILL HAD TO PAY $3,000 TO MY AMERICAN UNIVERSITY WHILE I DID STUDY ABROAD. The international students would say, “You must be very rich to go to school in America.” It can be over $10,000 per semester! I explained student loans and ridiculous debt. They couldn’t believe it, and neither could I once I was saying it!
Germany has Sex Education. I was at a zoo. (I should have never gone to the zoo as an animal advocate, but that’s another story for another day.) There was a picture of a giraffe giving birth. I looked around and thought, “My God, there are children here!” but none of them stopped at the sign. The German girl I was with said, “Oh yeah, I forgot Americans don’t teach children about where they came from.” I realized how sad that really was. There’s no sex education for so many people growing up in America, and that’s kind of weird.
Germany is Battling Climate Change. They’re one of the leading countries to tackle climate change. Yet recycling is still optional in the United States, while we’re the country who hold that highest carbon footprint per person on average. China is the only country with a higher carbon footprint overall, but they’re a bigger country and have a significant higher population. It’s so inexcusable for America to be contributing to climate change this much without addressing it or trying to stop it. German people would ask me if the Republicans really, like really, didn’t believe in climate change? “How do they not understand science?” they would ask. Well Super PACs and millions of dollars in campaign contributions are apparently awfully convincing. AMERICA LOOKS REALLY STUPID WHEN OUR POLITICIANS DENY CLIMATE CHANGE.
America’s Media is about Sensationalism and Violence. So many Germans asked me if I had a gun. The kids I worked with thought America was like Grand Theft Auto. Our movies, news, and video games are all about violence. The Russian kids I worked with would laugh at me saying, “Americas can talk about guns like nothing, but they hate talking about sex.” I was so uncomfortable. Violence is so much more comfortable to talk about and sensationalize in our media, yet we can’t tell kids where they come from. And God forbid there’s a women’s nipple out in the open in the United States. Don’t get me started.
After my time in Germany, I was more afraid to come back to the States. The fact that we have racist, homophobic, misogynist, and Islamophobic people in positions of power says a lot about the United States, but it took me a good dose of German perspective to understand that. Come on American, take a dose of perspective and shape up.