This July 4th holiday, ask yourself this question: What does it mean to you to be an American? A tough question to answer. How can you know what rights, privileges, or freedoms you have inherited if you have never lived without them?

One sure-fire way to find a new perspective is to leave the soil of America and plant yourself in foreign soil — in another country. That is what I did and this is the story of my experience.

It is July 4, and there are no fireworks and no celebrations. For me, there are also no friends, family or grills roasting hot dogs, steaks, or barbecue ribs. It is July 4; I am 25 years old, and I am living and working in a foreign country. I lived in Stockholm, Sweden’s capital and largest city, for one year, and I worked in a biochemistry laboratory at the University of Stockholm.

I would remember this year for two reasons: First, it would prove to be the most grueling, exhausting, and lonely experience of my life, and second, living in Sweden would open my eyes to a new view of America.

Sweden has two distinct personalities: Its winter face is cold, dark and gloomy; summer is exotic and highlighted by the midnight sun, which streams down silken blue light for 23 hours of each day.

I took Swedish classes, and in three months I was able to carry on simple conversations. The lab I worked in was staffed with scientists from all over the world — 30 countries were represented — and most of them had traveled to America, and they spoke good English.

At work, when it became known that I was an American — the only one in the entire lab — I was bombarded with daily questions about America: What new Hollywood movies had I seen? What was the price of a new Ford Mustang? How much did gasoline cost?

More difficult questions, none of which I could answer, were: How forceful were

USA newspapers when it came to opposing government views? How much of my taxes went to fund the military or to pay for health care for the poor?

As I listened to the stories about America as told from the perspective of Europeans, Asians, South Americans and many more, I began to see patterns. Here is what I learned about America:

1. Everyone, without exception, wanted to live in America. Despite harsh and vocal criticisms about my country, all the conversations ended up with this question: “Do you think I could get a job and live in America?”

2. America is the main force in the world that fights oppression and supports individual liberties.

3. The best movies are made in America.

4. Americans work harder and longer than any other worker.

5. America has the best grocery stores, the largest variety of foods, and the lowest prices.

When I returned home, I had a better understanding of myself, my country and of those elements I had taken for granted, which kept me healthy.

If a plant is ripped out of its soil, and its roots are not re-planted, it will die. For people, all of us, to be healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually, we need roots that connect us to our families, friends, spiritual beliefs, community and nation.

One huge root — our country — has given us a basic value which defines how we live: Liberty.

President John F. Kennedy expressed this concept in these words: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes you well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardships, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival, and the success of, liberty.”

There are today, 300 million citizens living in America. What does it mean, for each citizen, to be an American? We live in the only country in the world where

this question can be answered in 300 million unique ways.

God bless America.

(The content of this article is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for treatment by a professional.)

Dr. Richard Elghammer is a clinical psychologist in Danville and practices at the Elghammer Family Center. He received specialty training in child, adolescent and family psychology at Riley’s Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, and completed his clinical internship at Indiana University School of Medicine.

Recommended for you