Tuesday, December 30, 2014

On Feeling American

Light a firecracker or pop champagne a little early today if you're a USA soccer fan, because Gedion Zelalem is now a USA citizen. 

Born in Germany, Zelalem came to the US in 2006, leaving only seven years later to join Arsenal's youth team. But 9 to 16 is a crucial age when many friendships and loyalties are formed. Zelalem, even though he has the choice still to play for Ethiopia, Germany or the US, has indicated he would like to represent America, partly because of the strong ties he made with youth club teammates while growing up in Maryland. Zelalem's family also settled in the USA, so he has many reasons to consider himself American. 

That hasn't changed, apparently, even while in England, though he plays for one of the premier clubs in the EPL. 

I think I understand that, a little. For example, I rarely drank Coke while I lived in the USA. I didn't really like it, and there were plenty of other options. When I lived abroad, though, people would often offer me a Coke, assuming that because I was an American, I drank it all the time. At first I resisted. I was traveling and wanted to experience local culture, including beverages. I sampled many coffees, teas, yogurt drinks, juices, etc. 

After a few months, even though I still enjoyed exploring and experiencing other places, I realized I missed the States a lot. I missed peanut butter, pepperjack cheese, Thai food, Tex-Mex, pancakes, TV shows, 24hr gas stations, In-N-Out, friends, family, shorts and flip-flops as acceptable streetwear, "Hey!" as an acceptable greeting, hugs as acceptable farewells, Spanglish as an alternative language,  co-ed soccer games, pick-up basketball games, and eating dinner before 10 pm. I adjusted, of course, with the "when in Rome" philosophy (reminder, must actually go to Rome someday!), but living abroad helped me realize how American I really am. 

So around that time, when yet another new friend offered me a Coke with an "of course this is what you drink" smile, I finally took it. I sipped and it tasted like home. Which is to say, it tasted exactly like the drink that I didn't like back home, but this time, far away from home, that made me feel nostalgic and I liked it. 

That's a story to help explain why I understand that living elsewhere can sometimes make a person more sure of where he really belongs. 

Welcome home, Gedion. 

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