America, I got you quite wrong.
I’ve had a lifetime being force fed a culture by the entertainment industry, and I thought I knew you. Then I landed here as a temporary resident.
Big, boisterous America has a stage presence that’s both a gift and curse.
Its reputation for obsession of self, stuff and shallow stardom doesn’t often fare well in the eyes of others.
To the world I say, don’t be quick to judge a country you’ve only seen from afar, or visited for just a little.
From the very first “Welcome Ma’am” at the border, I’ve been embraced with a friendliness that’s disarming in its generosity. I’ve been moved by a thousand everyday kindnesses that Americans happily throw my way.
Packing up a life and moving it across the other side of the world is daunting. My home, beautiful New Zealand, is a galaxy away. Getting anywhere from there requires a big plane and lots of time zones. Moving to America has been exciting, tempered with my share of loneliness and confusion.
It’s been made so much easier by America’s deep history of embracing strangers from afar. That very trait is the lifeblood that makes America the best kind of place, a great place of freedom, opportunity and invention.
In America, a person can be anything.
This land welcomes the dreamers and thinkers, right alongside the movers, shakers and doers.
These shores are a beacon for people escaping their own country’s limitations. The iconic American Dream isn’t mere fable, for Lady Liberty welcomes newcomers with the promise that hard work and good intention will bring health and wealth and bright futures for generations to come.
My kind of America now, not the one I grew up viewing from a distance, is a place of open minds and thoughtful actions, of endless optimism and plenty of choices.
I’ve discovered that America is not scared to do things big, and it’s also excellent at the many little things, and it’s those little things that make up a big part of my daily life here.
Those times when new friends offer me a ride, because they recognise that having me drive on the opposite side of busy roads is challenging, and possibly a heath hazard to them.
It’s the times when they’ve helped me with the peculiarities of tipping, not customary where I come from. Figuring out the who, when and how is a blur and it only takes a slight hesitation for my friends to whip the check out of my hand and write in the figure for me. Apparently, I’m a good tipper.
It’s telling me when I use a word, commonplace in my home country, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Words, and there are more than you’d think, that have completely different, sometimes inappropriate meanings in this new land, all tangled up in accent and pace.
My kind of America is new friends showing patience when I repeatedly get life mixed up: the pennies, dimes and quarters, the local tricks for surviving the Florida summer, the warnings about hurricanes and impressive lightning strikes, and the insects, black bears and alligators.
The kind of America I have experienced is one that is fearless and bold, the people exuberant and eager, quick to share their opinions and dreams and also keen to hear mine.
I see a nation where people embrace self-belief, aim for the extraordinary, bringing the impossible within reach. It’s why America’s history is rich and its future is promising.
The world could learn a lot from getting to know Americans, rather than listening to what they think they know about America. One of the things I love most about Americans is that they’re not very worried about what the rest of the world thinks of them.
I won’t mistake different for bad or worse, I won’t let what’s familiar color my perspective and I will remember that the onus of adjustment is on me, the newcomer, not the other way round.
America is difficult to ignore or forget. Eventually I’ll leave these shores and when I do, I’ll remember everything that is good, and I hope you do too.