Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Globalization: Back to the Future...

Dear Readers,

Although I've almost completely recovered from my cold, unfortunately Rachel has got the bug now.  The doctor here prescribed something similar to TheraFlu in the US.  A powdery substance you mix with boiling water to create a hot beverage infused with a fever reducer, a painkiller, and a decongestant. 

If memory serves me well, TheraFlu is available over the counter or without a prescription in the US.  Here, however, the TheraFlu substitute called "NeoCitran" is available only by prescription.  Luckily, the script I was given has 5 refills. 

There are many little differences like this between the US and Europe.  The title of this blog entry, "Back to the Future" describes another observable difference--- GLOBALIZATION. 

Having vivid memories of watching the Berlin Wall come down during 9th grade Social Studies, globalization was a term we not only learned about in school but also witnessed firsthand.  Sure, we all have an idea what globalization means as a concept.  Globalization is the "shrinking" of the world.  Globalization is greater dependence between nations with respects to unfettered movement of people, capital, and cash!

However, I have not truly understood Globalization until I started to compare living in Austria now to living in Budapest from 2001-2003.  Allow me to define globalization with some examples from these two experiences. 

In 2001, I moved to Budapest.  My intention had been to visit some family in Budapest for a couple of weeks and then head to Italy for some hiking in their famous Dolomite Mountains.  Instead, I ended up enrolling in a Hungarian language school, studying the language, teaching English and eventually working for a school called International House- Budapest over the course of two years. 

Globalization means,

From 2001-2003, I largely lost touch with my world in the US as I knew it.  If I wanted to phone my mom or friends, I had to go buy a phone card from a corner bodega and go outside of my apartment to call from a phone booth.  For this reason, I didn't really call people that much (yes, I'm lazy!).

Now in Vienna, I have spoken with friends in Baltimore on many occasions via Skype or FaceTime.  In addition, I have a Google Voice number with an (410) area code enabling friends to call us as if calling someone in a neighboring state.  If we are online when the call is placed, a flashing window indicates an incoming call.  If we are offline, the caller can leave a voice message, which then is relayed to my email inbox.
In this way, I have been able to videoconference with friends and family as well as to conduct business with companies with whom we still maintain accounts in the US. 

(Note: a major difference between my life in Budapest and my life in Vienna is I now have a laptop and Internet connection whereas I did not then)

People who know me realize I am not the greatest sports fan to begin with.
From 2001-2003, I neither saw on TV nor read about any sports news.  Therefore, there is a two-year gap in my sports knowledge of who won events from the US Open to the World Series.  I would hypothesize a couple of reasons for this: one, no US sports events were broadcast over the Hungarian cable TV channels I had; two, when I did go online, I had to go down to the Mammut Mall in Pest in order to access email via the Bookstore's internet cafe setup.  Therefore, it cost money to access the Internet and I basically just sent emails or took care of business. 

Flash forward to 2011 in Austria.  We have an excellent internet connection at home, allowing us to watch some of our favorite shows like the Daily Show, the Colbert Report, or SouthPark.  In addition, the cable company UPC here provides many English stations.  We get about a half a dozen news stations:  EuroNews, BBC World, CNN International.  We receive a handful of English-language sports channels including  EuroSports and ESPN America.  In fact, it's shocking to some of my friends when I mention how I caught the Ravens game the other night 'cause I was the last person to chat about sports in the States.  Here, watching "American Baseball Sports" or "American Football Sports" as the programs are called has provided a nostalgic shot of Americana.

These examples provide an illustration of what I would call the grassroots results of Globalization.  The world has indeed become smaller: borders have shrunk or disappeared, people with wealth are as likely to have accounts in Switzerland or Austria in addition to within their nation, and Americans are leaving the US to find work abroad.  However, once living abroad, it is easier for citizens of the US to maintain connected to their cultural Americana.  No longer must one miss out on the World Series (shown here in Vienna on ESPN America), no longer must one close bank accounts in the US and open them abroad (bill pay and online transfers can be accomplished online anywhere), no longer must one break voice communication with those he loves. 

Which brings me to an interesting thought?  Part of the reason to go abroad is to learn about another culture.  In my mind, immersion is the best way to learn a language and experience what it truly means to be Hungarian or Austrian.  However, if people living abroad can still execute the day-to-day realities of their life in a manner similar to their life in their home nation, does this undermine the idea of globalization creating a closer-knit world?

Perhaps utopian ideas of US citizens moving abroad, learning other languages, eating different foods, exploring other cultures, realizing the basic building blocks of societal life (housing, health care, and higher education) can be provided differently, are naive.  In reality, globalization, especially as regards international communication and global media, could mean a US citizen sitting on the couch in Vienna, Austria watching Stephen Colbert on their laptop while a muted game 7 of the World Series plays on the Cable TV network ESPN America- while eating this popcorn!
Notice the red, white, and blue stars and stripes design with an Uncle Sam look alike smiling his approval!

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