Nationality shouldn’t matter any more than sports teams matter. I’m not saying we should dissolve all the countries in the world, I recognize that they serve a purpose, but I don’t think they’re as important as they once were. Every year as technology increases and the world shrinks, boundaries between nations mean less and less. Hopefully someday they will mean nothing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s ok to have pride in your country, just like you might have pride in a sports team. Yet like in sports there is a problem when you want to inflict physical violence on another person solely because they are a fan of another sports team.
One of the best experiences of my life so far has been a summer long study abroad trip to the UK. It was an international school with many programmes and I was in the archaeology programme. There are two moments that really struck me. At the start of the programme we had an ice breaker night where everybody got together at a small party and we played team games. There were students from India, German, France, Spain, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Holland, United Arab Emirates, Czech Republic, Ireland, Austria, Italy, everywhere.
One of the games we played at the ice breaker game was a starring contest of sorts. The object of the game was to make the other person laugh. Everyone looked so serious. The easiest way to stay serious is to think about serious things, so I imagined everybody was thinking of things like the other person’s country’s past. Almost all of our countries had come in conflict with each other at one point or another in the past, so I assumed people were focusing on that to keep a serious face while staring straight into the eyes of their opponent. The thought made me uncomfortable.
Over the course of the following weeks we all got to know each other, we became friends. On a couple of occasions my Spanish, German, Irish, and Indian friends and I would get together for dinner. We’d meet over at someone’s place and all cook. It was amazing. The second moment I was talking about, but the one that had the greatest impact on me, came one night while we were all out at a pub.
Sitting there in a corner, nursing a drink, I looked around at all my friends. A Dutch and Spanish friend were dancing to the music near our tables; their countries had fought a brutal war centuries ago, Spain almost wiping my Dutch friend’s country off the map. My other Spanish friend was chatting with my Irish friend. Next to them was my English friend. Ireland and England have a long and bloody history, and Spain almost wiped England off the map in the 16th century. Near him was my French friend who was chatting to the Egyptian student. France had conquered and subdued Egypt, just like the British. My French and English friend, their countries had tried to kill each other for centuries. My German friends were also having a beer with me. WWI, WWII? Same goes for my Italian friend. All of our countries had dark interwoven pasts. We had all fought with each other at some point. 60-70 years ago we might have been trying to slit each other’s throats, yet here we were, in a pub, laughing and chatting together as friends. This realization hit me like a bucket of water, and I sat there for a bit just taking it all in. Despite all the hatred, horrors, and crimes of the past here we were as friends. Nationalities didn’t matter to us. All that mattered was that we were 20 somethings in another country for the summer, all experiencing the same thing, all of us friends. It was one of the greatest and happiest moments of my life.
I think it sometimes takes an experience like that, prolonged contact with people from different cultures, to realize that we’re all essentially the same. Yes we may look slightly different, wear different clothes, eat different foods, and speak different languages, but all this is superficial. We’re all people with the same needs, worries, fears, and hopes as everyone else. I think it’s easy to forget that when you’re in your own country, flooded by the fear and “us vs them” mentality of the news media.