What Living Abroad has Taught me About Being American

MacKenzie Rumage discusses how the current political tension in the United States of America has made her question her own national identity while living abroad. Do we really need to be born and brought up in the same country, to be able to uphold that nation’s patriotic values? She highlights what it feels like to be considered an ‘immigrant’ in her home country, and emphasizes that although Trump’s America has stripped away her identity, the American ideals still live on and restore hope in those affected by this shift in American politics.

There is no better self-reflection than seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes. This is the wake-up call I got when I moved from the United States to St Andrews, leaving behind my friends, my family and my country.

 The United States of America has always been seen as the ‘land of opportunity’. We opened our doors to the Irish when they were escaping the Potato Famine and the Italians when they were fleeing political repression. America was founded by those who came from other places and believed that the country could be a ticket for a new, better life. Lady Liberty herself is an immigrant — a gift from the French, meant to celebrate the recent Union victory in the American Civil War that reaffirmed the ideals of freedom, democracy and opportunity.

 Americans have prided ourselves on these ideals, and the rest of the world has looked up to us because of them. But, over the course of the past two years, the world has all but discarded this image of the United States.

 A friend from England told me that he had always slept easy knowing that America was always there — a beacon for hope, especially after the Brexit vote. But after Trump’s election, he had lost considerable respect and belief in America. He was not the only person to share this sentiment with me, and it was heart-breaking to hear. A few years ago, America was seen as a safe haven for those who could not defend themselves in their own home. A few years ago, the American Dream — of living one’s own life according to their own desires and would provide a better future for their children — was alive and real. Now, the country is a pit of hatred, fear and division.


 Before coming to St Andrews and hearing what others thought of America in a post-Trump environment, I had only seen America through American eyes. I thought that while the election was devastating to many around the world, it wouldn’t have that much impact on regular people in other countries. I was mistaken. I had no idea the world was paying such close attention to American affairs, and cared so deeply. On one hand, I was amazed they thought so highly of America that they would put that much stock into our politics; on the other, I was devastated to hear that the polarisation of our country has so negatively affected how others see us. Admittedly, my patriotism took a hit. It was hard to defend my country and my love for it, and I questioned how I could reconcile my love for America and the hate being spread in the name of American ideals. How could I say I still love a country I voluntarily left? A country that was headed in a direction that I could not bear to see it move in?

 I never really heard the term ‘immigrant’ in a derogatory fashion, or associated myself with it until Trump started campaigning in 2015. Although I was naturalised very young, the immigrant status is still an undeniable part of me. I have grown up in America and am fully American. I have always been proudly American, but I hadn’t felt less accepted by my own country until he started campaigning. I never felt like I had to prove my “American-ness” to anyone. I didn’t feel like an outsider until he made it sound like the only ‘true’ or ‘real’ Americans are the ones who were born and raised in the States, white and heterosexual (which is not even accurate, because we mercilessly stole the land from the Native Americans and still do not treat them as Americans).

 Almost as soon as I took on the term of ‘immigrant’, I left my adoptive country and moved to the United Kingdom for most of the year. I won’t lie, I feel like a bit of an ex-pat. While I made the decision to go to St Andrews for my life and career, I also felt like I was letting everyone back home doubt my patriotism. What kind of American leaves America — chooses another country over the United States? Based on Trump’s definition of a ‘good American’ — one who puts America as their first and only priority, and only believes the half of the story Trump wants them to believe — I am a bad American. If he believes, as he seems to do, that Americans are only those who were born in the States and Caucasian, I am not even American. It felt like Trump took all of the things that make me American — my citizenship, my childhood, my accent, my family, my patriotism — and said they do not count. Trump made me doubt my own love of America. And, to an extent, moving to the United Kingdom — as much as I wanted, needed and loved that decision — felt like proving him right.

 Now what country do I belong to, if any? I am not British at all, but I technically have a residence here, and I live here most of the year. I love Britain, it has a piece of my heart and it is starting to become home. But I do not feel, at least yet, that Britain is my country.


 I am still American as well. America has shaped me into the person I am today, and it is home. I love America, but I sometimes question how much America loves me back. And how can I belong to a country that has a leader who does not think I belong? I feel like I have to represent America well, since I am abroad, but what is the point when so many American leaders do not seem to care about that, even though representing America is their job? I love America, but it does not always love me back. And that thought process almost accomplished Trump’s mission of excluding immigrants and minorities: I almost started to truly hate America and thus destroy my patriotism. If that happened, then Trump would be right, wouldn’t he? Immigrants have no patriotism, they were not born in the States, so they cannot possibly love America — they cannot possibly be considered Americans. They have to go.

But in my questioning of my patriotism and what it is to be American, I realised something: patriotism and nationality are not black and white areas, despite what Trump and his cohorts say. You may have been born and bred in the States, but feel no love of country. At the same time, you could be an illegal immigrant who lived in the States for their entire life, and feel more allegiance to the United States than their origin country, but not be considered American because you do not have citizenship.

 If America was only built by white people who were born in the States for white people who were born in the States, then the country would not have not gotten anywhere. America was built with the love and on the backs of immigrants — white and other. That is what made America great in the past, and what renews my hope now. America can still be a symbol of excellence, hope and liberty. It may have faded, but it is not gone. And that is due to the long history of those who have come from all over the world to start anew in the United States and who have fought to keep those ideals alive because they believed in them. That history endures and continues in those who still want to come to America to start better lives for themselves and their children even today. Because of that American Dream, America had the honour of being a role model for the free world in the first place. Immigrants who believed — and still do — in that American Dream are the ones who shaped America, and will shape the country’s future.


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