Last fall I went on a spontaneous trip to New York City with a few friends to experience the city and watch the New York City Marathon. The day after the race, a friend and I were riding the Staten Island Ferry and started a conversation with the older man next to us.
He told us he was from Germany and I asked him a few questions about his home, his culture and his thoughts on the refugee crisis. His response stunned me and eventually set the stage for my own involvement in the crisis in Europe.
After pausing for a few moments, the man looked at me and said intently, "This is the first time in my life I've been proud to be German."
He was referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to allow refugees to enter Germany when many other nations were closing their borders. In the face of risking popularity, political unrest, national security and her own reputation, Merkel chose bravely. And the world was watching.
(In fact, she was named Person of the Year in 2015 by TIME Magazine)
Although the influx of refugees into Europe has been a controversial issue, this man was proud his country chose to embrace those fleeing their country seeking refuge in another place. And to me, that's very significant when taking Germany's previous history into account.
I told him I hoped to visit his country someday, to which he replied he felt so privileged to visit the United States and thought I must be so proud to be an American. After watching my country's response to this crisis and the unbelievable (and honestly sickening) idea of banning Muslims from entering the country simply because of their race and religion, I'm not sure I'd agree with him anymore.
That man's words echoed in my mind as I boarded my first flight to Germany last April. And once I arrived, I found a culture and people who, from my perspective, embraced their identity and nationality. And it made me proud to be there, to take part in what this country was standing for.
Just a few months later I visited a refugee camp on the border of Greece and Macedonia with close to 10,000 refugees. The thought occurred to me that this one individual camp housed more refugees than my country was allowing inside their borders. According to NBC News, the U.S. is considerably behind on its goal to receive 10,000 refugees, and has only accepted less than 2,000 thus far. And that deeply grieves me.
I don't pretend to have the solution, nor do I intend on bashing my own country or people. (Fret not, the 4th of July is still my favorite holiday). However, I do hope the world can learn from Germany's response and choose to embrace rather than ignore what's been called the largest humanitarian crisis of our generation.