Mariah Proctor is a senior at BYU, having just finished a study abroad in Austria and an internship with the BBC in Edinburgh.
Sitting on a bus, wondering why I chose the most carsick seat in the place for our purported 9 hours of driving today. To my left a girl from Thailand, no English, but I’m pleased as punch to find that I still understand a little of the Thai that she’s speaking with her friends who are scattered around the back rows of the bus. To my right, a woman from Portugal; asleep, her unconscious head is lying heavily against the seat behind her, and her mouth is gaping wide open like she’s preparing to swallow a sword. Eleven people on this bus came all the way from Nepal. We 29 passengers are from the world over, but we all have one destination in mind; Loch Ness.
We drove through the highlands for hours before reaching any sort of real stopping place and our guide delightfully scored our experience with movie soundtracks that he said have taken him two years to coordinate with the scenery that we’re breezing past. The chords of Last of the Mohicans swelled to a head as we rounded the corner and saw one of the many shining lochs of Scotland. I felt sort of sorry that our guide’s audience didn’t appreciate him more. He was such a delight. He told jokes that nobody laughed at, including me, because my throat has been too sore to issue sound. I laughed with my shoulders hoping he’d catch a glimpse of my amused movements in his rearview mirror.
We rounded the bend and began to drive along the shores of the much-anticipated Loch Ness as bagpipes squealed out the chords of My Heart Will Go On. That was one of those moments where I just giggle at the places and circumstances that my life brings to me. I secretly hoped that the stirring chords of the Titanic theme would be enough to rouse the Loch Ness monster and better our chances of a sighting. It sounds like I’m being facetious, but for the record, I truly believe in the existence of the Loch Ness monster though I hope that it’s a species rather than an individual. I would weep to think of how old and lonely she is by now, if there’s only one Nessie.
The kilted guide/driver did catch a glimpse of my attempts to be engaging in his rearview mirror. I was sitting at the end of the bus aisle as far back as you can sit and still have no one sitting in front of you. It progressed to the point that he began to use me as a litmus test for the temperature and volume and general enthusiasm level of the folks in the back. He would look into his mirror and call out “American girl! Alright back there?” only he’d have said “Ach aye Ameh-ri-kan gel! A-reet?” He must have said it thirty times. There is a false intimacy that develops between fellow travelers even when you’re only on a day trip. You’re all far away from home and equally confused about what’s going on. You need to borrow each other for picture-taking purposes and you share, if only for this one day, an astonishing amount of life experience. So, these sojourning strangers, now temporarily my friends, followed our leader and began using the name “American girl” as well.
I pick up nicknames like a champion. I’ve never really been successful in giving myself a nickname though heaven knows I’ve tried. When I came to my first year of girl’s camp, I tried to get everyone to call me Riley—it didn’t even stick for a quarter of an hour. I love my given name, though there is something decidedly endearing about having a new name (even if you are incapable of renaming yourself). I’ve been called Sniggles, Posh, Marooka, Diva, MoMo, Mari, Malai, Lady, Robot, and the list goes on. I’ve been in countries where they automatically resorted to referring to my status as a westerner, but never specifically to my being an American. It wasn’t until Fred the Scot started calling me that that I realized I generally downplay that detail about myself in culturally diverse company.
I’m proud to be an American (and yes, the song is going in my head too as I say that), but for some reason I have heretofore been content to sort of sweep my nationality under the rug when it comes up in my experiences abroad, trying, to be, I suppose, a citizen of the world. I try to blend in, wearing my global citizenship by being from nowhere, but it only makes me look needlessly ashamed and silly. I can’t hide the cultural context that I come from, and it hasn’t really been until my time in Europe this summer that I’ve realized how, despite my international experience, my having grown up in America is integral to who I’ve become.
I was interning with the BBC and working on studio audience recordings of a lot of their programming, and hearing what they broadcast into the kitchens and bedrooms of their citizenry, and what they choose to say in so intimate a setting when I realized how much of how I think, and what I do, and why, is based on the kind of stuff that gets broadcast from my own land into my kitchen and bedroom and car.
This one announcer said, “That’s something that would happen up in the northwest” and without even thinking about it, I envisioned what he was saying as occurring in Oregon or Washington state. I’ve been all over the world, but the map in my head is of the United States. The laughter that echoed out through the otherwise reservedly quiet streets of Austria this summer on my BYU study abroad was from our hearts, which are culturally open and humorous, and our laughter, which is unabashed and free, if at times a little untoward, is a product of an American upbringing.
I like road tripping for three days and still being in the same country. I like the patriotism of the 4th of July, and I like the rags to riches stories that have been coined the American dream and that teach me that life is in my hands and I can change my stars. I love really stupid romantic comedies and the best dessert I had in all of Austria was from McDonalds (and it’s not just because I have an unsophisticated palate or some such).
I’m not saying that these things are necessarily exclusive to my motherland or that any place is better than another. If anyone knows that the world is full of wonderful things and that you can’t draw a hard line around America and expect to get them—it’s me. But a Scottish girl told me my accent was beautiful and I’m starting to believe that she’s right. I’m finally becoming satisfied with bringing all of me to the table and appreciating where I come from as much as I’ve always appreciated where other people come from. I’m endeavoring to embrace the nickname “American girl,” acknowledging that I am a product of my context without being a victim of it.