Well I’m an expat now, so I must hate America, right?
Let’s do a little sixth grade science experiment.
Question: Is America the biggest cultural and economic superpower in the world?
Hypothesis: America is the center of the world.
Observations to support the hypothesis:
- Thai people know a lot of American pop music
- There are a lot of chains (i.e. KFC, McDonald’s) everywhere you go in Thailand
- There are t-shirts with random English words everywhere
- Almost every school teaches English
- Most signs are in English and Thai
Observations to refute the hypothesis:
- My students don’t know who LeBron James is
- No one cares or talks about the gun control issue here
- Most Thai people ask if I’m American or British
- Absolutely no one knows where Ohio is
- No one whatsoever acknowledged Thanksgiving as a holiday
It’s not America that is the dominant force in international relations, it’s English.
A question I’ve gotten a lot from people back home is, “How many Americans teach at your school?” Only a handful, but there are also plenty of western teachers from England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada and Holland. I know America likes to think of itself as all encompassing and so expressly different and better than the rest of the world, but it is not. Living in an eastern culture is making me realize how much western cultures are related to each other.
When I went to Europe last year, I felt like I was stepping onto a different planet. They put milk in their tea? Weirdos. But everyone was a native English speaker, and had the almost the exact same technologies and pop culture. Asians do not aspire to be American, they simply aspire to know English.
During class one of my students said, “Teacher, I just want to have an accent like you!” I have a feeling she wasn’t referring to my thick Cleveland accent and saying phrases like, “you guys,” all the time. She was referring to the fluency that I speak English, that’s all.
English is the queen of the world, and I am beyond fortunate to have built in qualifications just for being lazy enough to only know one language. Knowing English is the greatest gift I could have ever received. It can award me with so many job opportunities throughout my lifetime, simply for being born on the lucky half of the world. English is the language of business, music, aerospace, and social media just to name a few.
How else could I have survived living in a foreign country for almost five months, getting away with speaking my first language 95% of the time?
There is a reason it pays so well to be an English teacher over here. I believe that the work I am doing is worthwhile, not imperialist. For poorer Thai students, knowing English is their key to breaking into the tourism industry and sustaining themselves through a steady income. For those who are well off, knowing English allows them to study abroad and conduct business on an international level.
It will be very interesting to see what becomes of languages as the world becomes more intertwined together through the Internet and easier, safer modes of transportation. A noticeable change could be way beyond my lifetime, but it is certainly an interesting time to be alive.
If you can read this post, count yourself one of the lucky ones.