Perspectives Of America

First, it was his grandmother. Then, little by little the rest of his family began to come. And when Nattapat Sayabovorn finally reached America, he had three words to characterize it: “It’s so cool.” Sayabovorn, who is at CHS as a foreign exchange student from Thailand believes that America is the greatest country in the world. To him, the United States is a place where “you have the freedom to say anything.”

“I’ve heard a lot of things about the U.S.A. because I had relatives living here,” Sayabovorn, a sophomore, added. He recalls how his relatives told him about this school and the weather. And now that he’s here, Sayabovorn said that the U.S. fulfilled his expectations. But not everyone shares Sayabovorn’s impression of what the United States is like.

CHS junior Sarah Zimmerman, who recently went to Panama as part of another foreign exchange program, changed her impression of the U.S. after her trip.

“In Panama, more than half the people are way happier than anyone here in the U.S.,” said Zimmerman. She noticed how people she met there lived on lower salaries and the things that they had “were just the basic necessities that anyone needs.” For example, all of her showers were cold water, and her bed was just “a mattress and some cardboard underneath.”

Zimmerman admired that Panamanians were happier with fewer things than Americans. “You don’t need all this extra money,” she said. To Zimmerman, the possessions they had were “all you need.”

The Panamanians that Sarah met also had interesting view of the U.S. “They think that we’re pretty rich,” said Zimmerman. She said that Panamanians called Americans “gringos,” a stereotypical word for a white person. Even with that, Zimmerman commented that “they look up to us. They think we’re just rich and well-educated people.”

However, despite their unique view of Americans, in Zimmerman’s experience, Panamanians don’t necessarily aspire to live in the U.S. “I don’t think any of them want to live here,” she said, “they’re content with their lives there.” The Panama life is very family-based, and Zimmerman said that Panamanians want to stay close to their families.

Zimmerman can understand their feeling. Because of her experience, she can now say, “I definitely think that the U.S. is not the greatest country in the world.”

Of course, this differs greatly from Sayabovorn’s view. The Thai government has recently begun suppressing free speech rights and he noted “the right to speak” as a strong reason that he believes the United States is the greatest country in the world.

Sayabovorn’s and Zimmerman’s attitudes toward America that have been shaped by their exposure to different cultures. Their views may contrast, but their stances were molded by their everyday lives. Whether it was Zimmerman’s cold showers in Panama or the new liberties Sayabovorn was guaranteed in America, their stances were defined by time here and abroad.