Update: I’ve been thinking more about the funny experience my son had with the soccer camp. The British coach really thought this mandated community service idea was insane. It probably supported the stereotype we often encountered when overseas: Europeans can see Americans as way too earnest, naive, optimistic and child-like. An older Irish woman once told me, “You know what the problem is with you Americans? Let me tell you. No matter what the problem, you think you can solve it.”
This woman perfectly nailed the single biggest thing I missed about the US: optimism.
Yesterday, a high school kid who just spent his junior year in Portugal said that the Americans in his AFS program had the highest drop-out rate. Apparently some of the US kids couldn’t get used to the idea that their local host families and friends didn’t really see the point of making their lives better. It really grated on the US exchange students. The kid who relayed the story found the local culture really relaxing–he loved getting a break from American striving. But some of his fellow countrymen just couldn’t adapt. We adapted fine in Ireland, but I really did miss that American can-do attitude. It served me well in a start-up and I loved being in an environment where a team of people could believe in big, new ideas. We take it for granted as Americans, but you really miss it when it is gone, especially in business.