From Europe to the New World and Back Home Again: A Journey of an IVLP Visitor in the U.S.
By Liliana D. Cazacu, IVLP Participant
A long time ago, I learned that people get a better understanding of their culture and country while traveling. My experience visiting and working in Europe taught me a great deal about my home country, Romania. But the time spent in the US during my IVLP trip, made me think more of the European Union, in a broader sense, as home.
During my visit to US, I had three intense weeks and my advice to all future IVLP participants is to rest well before they go. Participants will need the energy as much as tennis champion Simona Halep needs her racquet. The journey led my colleagues, from another 14 countries, and I through a whirlwind of events, meetings, and cultural experiences. I found out that the American people are friendly and relaxed, not only when they pay you a visit, but when they host you at home as well. This reminded me of a childhood riddle that reflected our imagination about the culture of other countries. One had to guess how many pairs of feet are under the table where a British, a Turk, and an American sat. The answer was that there was only one pair of feet under the table. The only visible pair of feet belonged to the Englishmen who sat with one leg crossed over the other, and the missing Turkish feet were easy to explain due to the well-known cross-legged sitting position in Turkey. However, the missing American feet were the riddle, as they were to be found resting on the table, like those of the cowboy in western movies. Back then, in the suffocating communist regime of Romania, this was a way to describe a free and relaxed person.
However, during my visit to the US, I came across many other feelings. Our visit to New York was very emotional, especially during the meeting with the architects of the underground World Trade Center memorial in New York. Throughout my career as an architect, I have witnessed heated discussions, harsh sarcasm, irony, and nerves on edge. Still, I had never seen before tears in the eyes of my professional colleagues as I did during the meeting. It was a memorable experience that is worth sharing with the grandchildren.
In Charleston, South Carolina, I got a hefty dose of local pride. It was amazing to see people talking so passionately about their city and noticing their involvement in the preservation of their homes. Great organizations such as the Preservation Society of Charleston and the Historic Charleston Foundation are leading the city’s efforts for cultural preservation. Moreover, in the sunny and lovely south, I learned another important lesson: without political support heritage, preservation can score only small and isolated victories. Regardless of how the political support is established — either due to leaders who understand historical preservation’s importance or under pressure from the community — a sustainable and rooted growth needs the engagement of the people, and the cooperation of the administration. The recognition by the Senate of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor is a consistent example of this.
Seattle learned the lesson well as the city displayed a huge appetite for cultural entrepreneurship, both by having the initiative and offering support for it. The result is a vibrant city where cultural preservation is not a theory, but an improved way of life. For example, a short visit to the Pike Place Market gives a healthy taste of culture and local food. There, 4 Culture and Visit Seattle, two cultural preservation organizations, support this vivid and historic market along with many other activities that seek cultural preservation through economic development.
I noticed in Washington, DC, more than anywhere else, that the history of a place is not only local anymore. I remember watching live on TV the horrible attacks on September, 11, 2001. When I visited the Newseum and saw the antenna from one of the World Trade Center towers, I felt like I was standing in front of the bent and twisted remains of my own past. Information technology creates a common memory by engaging people around the world as events happen. This is a valuable lesson to remember when talking, thinking, and looking for support for cultural preservation.
Instead of specific conclusions, I took home the feeling that the United States of America is in a way the keeper of the world’s memory. It’s not only about the memorials I’ve visited — and there are so many — it’s the concept of general preservation that aims to protect the culture of all people. The people of the US come from all over the world, and they try to keep their own heritage alive, but under one common flag and one common name: US. I believe this could be the best lesson for the European Union to learn: make people feel European in the first place, no matter which country they call home. Shared culture is a good place to start.