Americans abroad not necessarily cheerleaders of home politics

I was one of the students who was in the same program in Beirut with Sam Heller (“Abroad, Americans act as emissaries,” 9/1). Heller lays forth charges that suggest those of us who weren’t cheerleading American foreign policy in relation to Lebanon are apparently bad Americans. He begins by suggesting that we are supposed to transmit the cultural values of America to others when we are studying abroad. I am curious as to what the cultural values of America are, according to Heller, and how he suggests we transmit them.

My understanding of the point of study abroad does not involve proselytizing, but in keeping an open mind and experiencing the home culture. I am curious as to whether Heller considers his plans to chant “U.S.A.” in Beirut intelligent and decent.

I would also like to know what Heller means by the phrase “our politics.” Does he mean we should defend all policies of our government?

I have little to say in regard to the $3-dollar Hezbollah t-shirts, because I did not buy any, and I was out of the country for that weekend. But most people I know who purchased the t-shirt did it as a novelty, not because they wanted to support terrorism; I never saw anyone wearing one after returning.

Finally, Heller argues that Americans who travel abroad and are “uninterested in conveying the U.S. perspective or actively [disapprove] of it … [pose] a serious problem.” Last I checked, we are not diplomats paid to spout the policy of Bush and his predecessors and therefore do not have to quote the national security strategy of America. Heller is awfully defensive of the government, equating vocal disagreement with its policies with disloyalty toward America. I believe that those of us who disagree with what we believe to be destructive policies are better emissaries of our culture in which dissent is freely allowed. Furthermore, the idea that we cannot criticize the president while abroad is absurd. President Bush is not America and we are not the U.S. government.

Sarah Johnson

Sept. 9, 2006

The writer participated in the American University of Beirut Summer Abroad program in 2006.

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