Do I feel more or less American living overseas?
I get this question a lot.
I’ve been living outside the States for more than 20 years, and, to answer the question I’m so often asked, I’ve never felt more American than I do today.
Living in the States (I lived in Baltimore, Maryland, for my first 35 years), we Americans take being American for granted. Every year since I left Baltimore, I’ve been more aware of my American-ness.
Thinking superficially, this is easy to understand. My husband and I, along with our children, lived in Ireland for seven years, long enough to acquire Irish passports even. But we’re not Irish… not really.
We were in Paris for four years, and both our children think of that city as home. It’s where our blended family bonded, where my son, Jackson, started school, and from where my daughter, Kaitlin, left our nest to start college.
We still have the apartment where we four lived together. It’s one of the places where Lief and I hang our hats these days. Now that our youngest child has also left the nest, Lief and I are able to move around more freely. We like Paris and return as often as possible.
In our apartment in that city we store plastic tubs containing school report cards and gifts the kids made us for Mother’s and Father’s days. Indeed, everywhere we look in those 112 square meters brings back memories from when our children were young.
We love being in Paris, but we’re surely not French.
In Panama, where we’ve been based for more than a decade, as in Ireland and in Paris, we’ve put down roots. We have friends, our children have friends…
Our Live and Invest Overseas HQ is in a big old house in Panama City’s El Cangrejo neighborhood. We have an apartment on Avenida Balboa and last year finished construction of our house on Panama’s Azuero coast at Los Islotes.
We’re in Panama for the long haul… but we’ll never be Panamanian.
No… we’re American, from our accents to our Levi’s and our appreciation of fresh corn on the cob on a summer afternoon.
And in less obvious ways, too.
When I sit down in a business meeting anywhere in the world, I’m the American at the table. I could be negotiating the cost of an apartment for sale in Buenos Aires, Argentina… considering a new business idea in Panama City, Panama… meeting with a new writer in Paris, France… or discussing residency visa options with an attorney in Medellín, Colombia.
On the other end of the conversation is an Argentine, a Panamanian, a Frenchman, a Colombian… what have you. I’m the American. And to the table I bring the American perspective.
The longer I’m outside the States, the greater has grown my appreciation for what that means and also for how unique the American perspective is.
The rest of the world doesn’t think like we Americans think. That’s neither good nor bad. It just is. And it creates an opportunity.
I have the chance, every time I engage with a non-American anywhere in the world, to learn from his non-American ways… and to put my American ways to good use.
We Americans are the world’s optimists. We believe in ourselves and in our collective ability to figure things out… to make things better… to make things work. We think we can… when everyone else is sure we can’t.
We’re dreamers. We see what something could be more than what it happens to be right now.
And we’re wanderers. What’s over the next hill? Let’s go have a look…
We value hard work, we like efficiency, and we pride ourselves on our willingness to act on opportunity when we perceive it.
What could we do tomorrow that we didn’t do yesterday… we wonder as we lie awake at night. Let’s get up early in the morning and find an answer for that question…
How can we make this thing, this idea, this effort better? Let’s roll up our sleeves and see where a little elbow grease leads us…
Those are American sentiments. Wherever we travel in the world, whoever we encounter, personally or in business, these are the attitudes that we bring to the conversation.
So, yes, living overseas I feel more American than ever. In a good way.
This article was first published in 2019 and has been recently updated.