What traveling abroad can teach you about your history
2017-10-13 22:20:01

JUDY WOODRUFF: Journalist Suzy Hansen grew up in a small town in New Jersey, before moving first to New York City and later to Turkey, where she now works as a foreign correspondent.(1)

What she discovered, as you will hear in tonight’s In My Humble Opinion, is how living abroad forced Hansen to reconsider what she thought she knew about her own country.(2)

SUZY HANSEN, Foreign Correspondent; Ten years ago, I moved to Istanbul to become a foreign correspondent.(3)

I had only been there a month before someone called me a spy.(4)

He was a young Turkish man. He had gone to a very good college in the United States, and he was a brilliant person.(5)

So, I was a little surprised that he would repeat that kind of cliche about Americans abroad.(6)

And he said: “Why not? Even if you are not technically a spy, no doubt that the information you are sending back to your country will be used for something terrible.”(7)

I didn’t understand what he meant by that, really. But then he said something else that surprised me even more.(8)

He said that he believed the Americans had planned September 11, that there was no way that the world’s most powerful country could have let such a thing happen.(9)

“You have got to be kidding,” I said. “You really believe that conspiracy theory?”(10)

And he said: “You Americans use that phrase so dismissively, but it is the rest of us who have been victims of your conspiracies.”(11)

He was talking about the Cold War. He was talking about history.(12)

These kinds of exchanges, these conversations kept happening in my first years abroad, in Turkey, in Greece, in Egypt, or Afghanistan.(13)

In Greece, in 2009, I had been sent to cover the financial crisis, and there, I was interviewing dozens of people, asking, hey, what happened here?(14)

I always framed my questions to foreigners in the supposedly tough journalist kind of way: What did you do to your country? How did you end up in this place?(15)

I realized there was something accusatory in these types of questions.(16)

Essentially, what I was saying was, when will you ever get it together? When will you become more like us?(17)

And more often than not, the Greeks from all different backgrounds said to me: Well, if we want to talk about how this crisis happened in Greece,(18)

we actually need to start with 1946 or 1949, and the Greek civil war, and the American intervention. You know.(19)

They always assumed I know what they were talking about, because this history, our shared history, was part of them, part of their identities and their world views.(20)

What the Greeks considered an American intervention, meanwhile, I had known as the Truman Doctrine.(21)

Other than that, I had never known the United States wielded such heavy influence in Greece. That history wasn’t at all part of me.(22)

It was more than two years before I really felt confident really enough to write for major publications about Turkey.(23)

I traveled the region. I had many more conversations with foreigners.(24)

In the process, my world view was changing radically. It felt sometimes even as if my brain was physically changing.(25)

In those first years abroad, I saw that we Americans were actually engaged in an intimate relationship with people all over the world, one that we knew very little about, and, even if we did, it was certainly not at all the whole story.(26)

Before I could write about another country, I realized I first had to understand my own.(27)

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