On Becoming American

by Kevin Cottrell

This phrase has been bouncing around in my head since I heard it yesterday in one of our first Marshall Memorial Fellowship (MMF) briefings in Washington, D.C.

The notion is that a limited few Americans actually have the opportunity to explore their culture and values from an enhanced vantage point outside of our country’s borders. It’s estimated that only 18 percent of Americans hold a U.S. passport.

It’s a notion that certainly struck a chord with me as I begin to meet and build relationships with the other fellows from across the U.S. (pictured above). Our conversations naturally center on our communities and our work at first meeting. We are a diverse and good-natured group, and certainly our assembly will in part help to answer the question of what it means to be American, while at the same time allowing us to explore transatlantic relationships.

In D.C., we had several briefings on values and beliefs in the transatlantic relations and the big picture on U.S./European relations. Both were provocative dialogues. Additionally, we also heard the European perspective on the U.S. presidential elections, and have been clued in to the state of ‘Obamamania’ in Europe- the fascination with Barack Obama, the son of an immigrant, as a viable U.S. president. I sense the European aspirations for the U.S. seem to mirror those in California, particularly in terms of immigration, social issues and climate change.

I look forward to exploring this more deeply in the coming days and weeks.

Next stop Brussels.

Kevin Cottrell is Executive Director of the Southern California Leadership Network, blogging from his fellowship with the German Marshall Fund in Europe.