Insider on the outside looking in (or: topophilia)

I came to Central Europe to learn about Central Europe, so it makes sense that three of my four classes here are about, well, Central Europe. But I also need to graduate (which I will do, eventually), which means getting at least one course here to count for geography credit. Unfortunately, the pickings are slim at our partner universities, so I’m taking, for elective credit, a sort of history-geography hybrid class on American regions.

As an American, I find it a little weird to study American regions while I’m in Hungary. Parts of it have been reviews of things I’ve studied from childhood, but it’s also been fun and enlightening. First of all, I’m constantly impressed by my Hungarian and Polish classmates’ knowledge of American history and culture. I wish I could say the same of my knowledge of their countries, and it’s a testament to them as much as it is a poor reflection on me that I don’t.

Second, I think I love America. This is the more surprising bit. I’m hesitant to call it patriotism (even though I do consider myself a patriot), because it has nothing to do with government or ‘the nation.’ It’s just that I love American landscapes and the things that fill them: road trips across Montana on Highway 2, snow falling fast in Massachusetts, hot apple cider on an October day in Michigan, the Great Lakes, NPR, Oberon.

The cultural geographer Yi-Fu Tuan called this sentiment topophilia, love of place. I’ve only read Tuan in excerpts, so I don’t know too much about his thinking, but I’m awfully familiar with topophilia as an experienced emotion. It hits me every Tuesday in class. It’s a good thing though, not hard like homesickness, and Tuesday nights I feel full of gladness.

It makes me think that for all the traveling I’ve done and enjoyed doing, I really belong in the States. I could go on studying American history, live in a U.S. city, and keep up on U.S. news for the rest of my life, and I’m sure I would be happy. But what about global understanding, ‘world citizenship’ and all that, the ideals of my youth?! How could I possibly consider becoming an Americanist? (It probably just shows that I’m not so much out of my youth that all this causes me so much angst.) I’m sure there’s a third way—and a fourth and fifth—and that I don’t have to choose between love for America and knowledge of the world.

At any rate, I do like America, but I would appreciate it, Calvin College Student News, if your lecture announcements would stop reminding me that I’m missing out on apple cider season and free drinks at campus events. And on Tuesday nights, I’ll think fondly of the Michigan fall I’m missing.

Then, I’ll probably go out for some mulled wine and pogasca and get a little topophiliac about Budapest.

One response to “Insider on the outside looking in (or: topophilia)

  1. we’ve also been reading student news and seeing friends’ pictures and lamenting our lack of michigan (or virginia, for that matter) fall weather, autumn apples, and generally all things familiar about that part of year. you know its getting bad when everyone from mi is telling me the weather is awful, its cold and rainy, and i think, that sounds nice.

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