As I sat in the lobby of the Atrium hotel in Split, Croatia waiting for my airport transfer, my mind continued to review the cultural experience of the past week traveling by bike across two islands in the Adriatic Sea. I was with a relatively physically fit and well-educated group of Americans. Almost daily we would sit at mealtime discussing our new cultural experience and comparing it to our daily “American” lives. Inevitably, the conversation would drift towards politics or should I say more softly policy.
I believe it is difficult to try to compare what we were experiencing on this trip with our own lives at home. So much of the thought process of Europeans is influenced by thousands of years of cultural history and for Americans it is only but a few hundred years. I find it interesting how many people in foreign countries lean toward or seek the “American Influence” such as style, music, sports, food, etc.… It also appears to me that many Americans want or seek out the “foreign influence.” but usually in a political manner and not cultural. In many ways it is extremely ironic. Also, many immigrants no matter where they go do not want to loose the cultural influence they left behind for a new life. I believe that is totally normal, but also ironic because is it the culture itself that has created a situation that they need to seek a new life? We also discovered that there is a youth drain as the young leave Croatia to find opportunities in other countries and one would have to ask why?
My driver to the airport arrived for my transfer. She was a pretty, bright and articulate woman who appeared to be in her late 30’s. Immediately, I noticed her Invisalgn Orthodontic treatment, which for me was an opening to our conversation. While discussing her treatment I found out the cost of her orthodontics was 2500 Euros and her monthly income was about 800 Euros. She had 3 children, held 3 jobs, her husband was a veteran from the Serbian war and he maintained 2 jobs. Her parents took care of the children when they were not in school. The discussion eventually turned to the troubles of a working mother and the emotional costs of providing for their family. As a couple, they had chosen not to accept handouts from the government in order to keep control of their own lives. It appears the more Croatians are supplemented, the fewer life choices they have. Our discussion led me to great admiration for her family. In the end we agreed that internationally we are looking for equality, but the game rules are not the same. But no matter your historical origin or nationality, it really filters down to some life basics. She is happy because she has control of her life’s decisions and works hard to keep that autonomy. At the end of each difficult day she arrives home to friends, family, and love. The catalyst that allows her to awake the next day to do it all again. Life can appear “greener” on the other side. But even half way around the globe, ultimately so much in life comes down to the basics of what you can do for yourself, a world cultural battle that has existed for thousands of years.
At the end of one of our group meal discussions, we came to the conclusion that much of the failure in America today is the loss of the purpose of the institution, which includes but is not exclusive to education, law, politics, medicine, and most importantly the institution of the family. Maybe someday this can all be rebuilt as long as we are careful and don’t loose the most important building block…our autonomy and ourselves. Life is really up to you, no matter what your heritage may be. For me, that was the biggest lesson of the trip and was an admirable lesson taught to me by a driver, who was fighting each day’s battle to have the best possible for her family and herself. Not much different then us.
- Dr. Ken Myers
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