How to Love (And Leave) Your Country


There is a moment, at the end of every trip, that I love. The plane touches down on US soil and I turn on my phone, for the first time in four or six or eight months. I get off the plane, eavesdrop on the probably overweight and definitely grumpy couple in front of me (“Ned, can you believe we have to go through customs in our country? The nerve! Ned, where’d you put my passport? Ned, do you think the raw goat cheese we brought back from Tuscany is going to be a problem? Ned! Ned!). I lie blatantly and with perfect fluency on my customs form (have you been near any farm animals in the past five months? Of course not. How about soil? Obviously a no!). Then, with as little delay as possible, I find the biggest fucking burrito available and I ask the woman serving me my big-fucking-burrito to fill up my water bottle and she doesn’t even look at me like I’m sprouting a third eye or trailing toilet paper out of my pants. In fact, as happened to me in DFW just a few days ago, she might even offer to fill it up for me BEFORE I SAY ANYTHING AT ALL. Can you imagine the joy?

And that is the moment in which I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I love my country.


Before I traveled, I was much more negative about the United States. This is an easy enough mindset to fall into, because, frankly, we do a lot of stupid things here. We talk too loud, we make bad jokes, we pay 500 times more for healthcare than the rest of the world, we sue the carpet manufacturer if we trip over the cat and we put high fructose corn syrup into baby food. Clearly, we suck.

But here’s the reality — other countries do dumb things too. There are other shitty governments. Nobody has it all figured out. The rest of the world is not some Utopian free-healthcare multilingual skinny-people paradise. (It’s also not a totally uncivilized shithole, in case you’re someone who leans the other direction.) Every country has its problems. Take Chile, for example, an entire population of people who think 11pm is an acceptable time for dinner. And New Zealand, who, despite doing almost everything right, HAS NOT FIGURED OUT THE INTERNET. Spend a day dealing with Argentine bureaucracy and you will want to kiss your local DMV secretary. Oh, and we’re pretty much the only country who has figured out that burritos are a food group, so there’s that.


It’s not that the United States is the best place on earth. It’s not. In fact, it’s a pretty weird place. But it’s weird in a lot of the same ways I’m weird. It fits me. It makes sense to me. This doesn’t mean I want to stay here forever, but it does mean it feels nice to come home. I used to think that culture was something you could try on and adjust and pick what you like. I remember sitting on a plane on my way to Spain at age 18 and wondering if, by the time I came home, I would be a little bit Spanish. News flash: I will never be Spanish. Or Argentine. Or even Kiwi. I’ll never be anything other than painfully, blatantly 100% American. Culture, when you get right down to it, has very little to do with traditional dances or national dishes or fashion trends. It is a deeply engrained way of thinking that permeates everything. Every. single. thing. We can adapt to other cultures. We can appreciate them and embrace them and even try to understand them. We can drink mate on the beach and dance flamenco and make perfect sushi, but somewhere, at the bottom of it all, we’ll still be moving to our own cultural rhythm. Like eye color and shoe-size and whether or not we like olives, sometimes we’re just stuck with what we’ve got.


Everyone will tell you, over and over again, that travel changes you. And it does, obviously, although perhaps in more subtle ways than the average flowery-travel-quote-printed-on-scenic-picture meme predicts. When I moved abroad for the first time, I expected that change. I welcomed it. I yearned for it. What surprised me, and perhaps taught me the most, were the things that didn’t change.

I have accepted now that even if I travel all over the world, I will always miss the same foods, I will always be an evangelist for free water in restaurants and I will always want my full and complete change. I will never, ever enjoy haggling or eating dinner past midnight.

I have also accepted that I paid too much for college and that x-rays shouldn’t cost a person 5,000 dollars and that fried eggs are seriously underestimated by the average American. Also, New Zealand makes better hamburgers and six cylinders are not required to tow a boat.


It takes guts to love your country and it takes guts to leave it. It takes a touch of craziness to do both.


What do you think? Does leaving your country make you love it more?

Syd Schulz

Pro mountain biker.

Average human.

I write about bikes and life and trying to get better at both.

more here

29 thoughts on “How to Love (And Leave) Your Country

  1. Fact, fact, fact. I’m always amazed that people who traveled through Europe for two weeks come back so enlightened. All I’ve figured out is that people are good/crazy everywhere. Maybe something else, but I’m not certain of even that.

  2. Such a good post! And it really rings trues, too. It doesn’t matter how much time I spend traveling or living abroad; I will still always be an American.

    And, while I don’t support a lot of things my country has done and is currently doing, it’s still MY country. And it really IS pretty awesome in a lot of respects.

  3. As an ex-pat Canadian who lives in Colorado and travels a lot, I too love returning home. Home has been Europe (Sweden) for four years, and then when I traveled returning to Sweden was going “home”. When I moved back to Canada it was home for a while, and then business took me to Colorado and it’s the best home so far. I think I’ve adapted pretty much completely (although I don’t carry a gun) as a friend of mine was here from Canada last week and there was a lot of stuff that was normal to me (“Watch out for rattlesnakes!”, complaining about health insurance, etc..) that he thought weird. Which I found mildly interesting because he and I were on the same business trip to Boulder many years ago and I stayed while he left. And now Boulder is home. :)

    BTW, the Rio Grande has *awesome* margaritas, and burritos are a food group here, too. :)

    BTW, for extra traveler credit I’d like to point out that I know exactly where Middlebury College is, as I ate lunch in Middlebury last summer on my way to an overnight hike on the long trail. :)

    • I love Colorado! And it is funny how our concept of home can change as we travel and live other places. Time is a great normalizer. And you are right, all of the southwest does a great job of recognizing burritos as a food group. And also, you get uber extra credit for knowing where Midd is!

      • I know a few people, via travel blogs, who have redefined “home” pretty well. Most of them are continuously traveling, but one couple has “settled down” by buying a house in a small village in Spain that they’ll use as a home base part of the year. Another gal goes for a month at a time (minimum) to places. Right now she’s doing a year in Switzerland.

        I sometimes regret buying the house here in Colorado, not because of Colorado but rather because I like to fantasize about a completely nomadic life. Unfortunately, while a computer geek I need “stuff” to do my work that doesn’t travel well. So having the homebase here is good.

        Also, the mountains here make it almost an exercise in stupidity to travel away from here in the best of the summer. After all, people pay good money to vacation *here* in the summer.

        Drop me an email if you find yourself passing through Boulder. I’m always up for lunch/dinner/beer/coffee with strang blogger people. :)

  4. Ha, yes, Colorado is the bomb in the summer. Although it does snow it May…And I will definitely be in Boulder at some point this summer so I will for sure hit you up!

    • Excellent.

      I bet you mean the snow I’m looking at right now, outside my window. Boulder’s always got pretty interesting weather. 30C one week to -2C a week later and back up to 28C the week after that.

      I’m away mid-June through the end of July but around before and after that trip. After that trip I’ll have things to say about Iceland!

      Drop me an email via the address associated with this comment and I’ll get back to you with my cell # and “real” email…

  5. Excellent post Syd! I agree with pretty much everything you say – no country is perfect and it takes guts to admit that. When you travel it’s great to see national pride and to have it but there are a lot of faults with every country. Costa Rica doesn’t know a damn thing about building decent roads or bridges, still can’t figure out how to set up a simple internet cable and don’t even get me started on their trash. But there’s many good things about it too. I loved growing up in the States and I appreciate it even more now that I haven’t lived there in awhile and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Traveling definitely makes you appreciate home much more!

  6. I always enjoy my time travelling, but have yet to find somewhere that i would permanently move to. If you could take all the good bits from every other country in terms of culture and food, and put it all in New Zealand you might be on to a winner though!

  7. ‘Culture, when you get right down to it, has very little to do with traditional dances or national dishes or fashion trends. It is a deeply engrained way of thinking that permeates everything.’ I totally agree! Although I haven’t lived in my home country of New Zealand for over 10 years I will always be a Kiwi. There are definitely places that you feel are a second home and that you ‘get’ their culture, Canada is mine :)

    • Katie – You have no idea how amusing I find that, as a native Canadian that quite loves New Zealand. Enough so that I seriously considered it as a place to emigrate *to* a few years ago. Ultimately decided that I like my life here in Colorado too much, but NZ is on the list for visits every few years. :)

      • The last time I was in NZ I met several American couples who had second homes in NZ and used NZ as an escape from North American winters. Since then I’ve met people here in Colorado who do the same. Sounds lovely to me, but I’m too scatterbrained to have a second house. I want variety in my escape from winter!

  8. Love the post it really sums up how I felt after coming back to America after spending 3.5 years in Germany. You never realize how much you miss the little things and how over there no matter how much you adapted you are still the outsider looking in when you live abroad.

  9. This post came up during a “Stumble” session – and I loved reading it, so much so that I shared it with a few friends, and read through some of your other entries. I live in New Mexico, so I am glad to see you are passionate about Hatch green chile! I love your comment on culture – I manage training programs for multi-national companies, and I have to continually remind my clients, that just because something is effective in one part of the world, there is no guarantee that it will work in any other part of the world. I hope you continue to enjoy your travels and life experiences, and look forward to reading more posts.

    • Thanks so much for this comment, James! I’m glad you found my blog and that we share an affinity for green chile. You are totally right when you say some things might work in one part of the world but not another. I think localization management in advertising must be one of the hardest jobs ever. And I imagine coordinating employee policies in multinationals is also a nightmare.

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