America Has Taught Foreigners Like Me It's OK To Have Hope

10/16/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I came to this country two weeks before September 11 2001. I watched the attacks live on television, I wept and prayed for America, while my family was weeping and praying on the other end of an overseas call. Back home, my mother has a framed facsimile of the original US constitution document hanging on the living room wall. She thinks that a country that mentions the right to happiness in its fundamental law is worth dying for.

I am not an American citizen and I might never become one. But I believe with all my heart that what happens to America will affect the whole world, and as your country chooses its leaders the course of world history might be at stake. I know I should be worrying about my own country first - and I did. Some time ago, when I felt that its future was hanging in the balance and it needed me, I spent much time and energy rallying, protesting, canvassing, doing sit-ins, manifesting civil disobedience, being part of the leadership of a national student organization and directing a nationally-broadcast electoral video. At the time, prominent American politicians and public figures came out in support of our progressive fight - including President Clinton, who visited our capital and congratulated us on our eventual success.

My country is ten thousand miles away, tucked away in Eastern Europe. The image and idea of America trickles down to my co-nationals through news media, more recently the Internet and most importantly through beloved American movies. Every time I go back home, I am being asked: what are Americans really like?

Are they really like we've heard - obsessed with personal wealth, which they think is the most important thing in the world? Selfish, not caring about what happens to their less-fortunate compatriots? Arrogant, not giving a damn about the rest of the world? Impatient, not likely to sit down and have a thoughtful conversation about the things that really matter? Indifferent, since life is tough and it's everyone-for-himself?

Or....are they like James Stewart in "It's A Wonderful Life", changing the world one small good deed at a time? Like Gary Cooper in "High Noon", standing up to bullies even when everybody deserted him? Like Henry Fonda in "12 Angry Men", holding his ground with the power of intellectual doubt and sophisticated reason against anger, pettiness, insecurity, against the ignorance of hasty judgment? Like Denzel Washington in "Crimson Tide", confronting the abuse of power and the lack of honor disguised as seniority ? Like Erin Brockovich, who could smell moosecrap a mile away and wouldn't buy it even if it came wrapped in golden tissue paper?

What is the truth about Americans, my friends ask me, and I know my answer matters to them.

My people are rather cynical and like to take many things in stride. But I know they want to be in love with America. Not with America the wealthy. Not with America the powerful. With America the inspiration, America the just, America the compassionate, America where you can dare to dream. People all over the world, living in countries that bear the cruel scars of history, sometimes find solace in the thought that there's at least one place where happy-endings are still possible. I lived in a dictatorship and I know the comfort that comes from knowing there's something else beyond the prison walls. I wondered sometimes whether that was a false hope. Now I understand that "there can never be anything false about hope".

So this is what I usually say to my co-nationals: living in the United States of America makes me reveal resources of strength and bravery that I didn't know I had. Every time I had an idea, I wanted to take a chance, I wanted to do something risky and rewarding, every time I chose the bold and unbeaten path, every time I decided to hold my ground for what I thought was right and gave up my personal comfort for the sake of a beautiful, improbable goal - every time, the people around me showed their admiration and embraced me. And they said to me, over and over, too many times to count: YES YOU CAN. I am grateful for the support of my American friends and I am humbled and uplifted by their generosity. It makes me believe in happy endings again.

Coming from a small country, I care about the power balance and the dynamics of leadership in the world because I know - oh so well - they will affect me directly. So even if I am not allowed to donate, campaign or volunteer for any of the candidates in this election, I can still voice an opinion as a citizen of the world who is convinced that more than just America's future is hanging in the balance.

I agree one hundred percent with Barack Obama's assessment, delivered on the campaign trail: "The country that figures out this energy thing first, they are going to be country that leads in the 21st century. That's the bottom line." I would very much like the United States of America to be the leader in the 21st century, but if you will check this out you will see why I am worried.

The world is holding its breath watching this November vote. Choose responsibly. Please, reclaim your country and give back the American Dream to all non-Americans like myself. We would feel rather lost without it.

This week OffTheBus is publishing a variety of stories that cover the presidential election from an international perspective.