Like a fair few Aussies of my generation, I’ve been lucky enough to travel to-and-from the States and other parts of the world since I was in my early teens.
For me, seeing the world was as informative as completing my first university degree.
(And there’s still so much of the world to see!)
But today I want to talk specifically about the USA - a country I’ve visited 5 times and have grown to hold very dear to my heart.
I’m not saying there aren’t problems. Every country has problems. And of course, as an outside visitor we are prone to wearing those rose coloured glasses.
But the constant negativity about the land of the free is such a narrow view of an extremely diverse population that is 13X that of Australia.
Right now, the narrative we hear in the media is very one-sided. I’m not going to talk politics - it’s not my area of expertise, nor my area of interest - and I think we're all a bit bored of that aren't we?
And unlike my usual data-drenched, research-laden article - this is anecdotal and personal - my own story in discovering a country I will continue to revisit and a people I will continue to form friendships with throughout my life.
So here are 10 reasons why I personally love America and what I look forward to most when I’m scheduled for a visit.
Now as a tourist, yes, strangers are more likely to speak with you, but, there is only one other country that has equalled America in it's kindness and friendliness out of the twenty or so other countries I’ve visited and that is Ireland.
There are friendly people everywhere, but in the US I can visit a bar on my own with a guarantee that I will have new friends by the end of the night. Whether in a big city like New York, or a small town like Fryeburg, it is easy to strike up a fascinating conversation with the person next to you.
Maybe this is a New York specific thing, that's where I've met most cops personally, but I've never met so many friendly and helpful cops.
Is it because I'm a young "white" tourist?
But from what I've seen, and what I've spoken with other people about, cops in New York, most of whom I've personally come into contact with have been African American, are very friendly and helpful. I've only had good experiences.
Every week I reach out to hundreds of people around the world here on LinkedIn. Building your network like this can be terrifying at first - putting yourself out there and hoping that the person on the end is welcoming of the invitation and what you have to say is a brave and bold move - as is any type of self-promotion.
When you connect with that many people, you start to see some repeatable and reliable patterns emerge - I know that I am much more likely to be able to have a forthcoming conversation with a new connection in the US and that my gumption is more often perceived as a positive rather than a negative.
In Australia, Canada and the UK, culturally speaking, what I've personally found is that talking about achievements can get a response that can be summed up with the cliche "are you getting a bit too big for your boots?" but in the US, the sharing the same information about what I have achieved professionally is more likely to be rewarded with an open conversation about opportunities to collaborate and work together.
One of my husband's favourite moments from our honeymoon, was that after our arrival in Chelsea in the late evening and still recovering from jet lag, he could walk to the local deli at 3am to get a cheese steak sandwich.
A lot of my favourite moments from the US relate to food.
Having the best Mexican I've ever tasted in downtown L.A.
Stopping at a diner between road-tripping from Nevada to California for some corn bread and home-style chicken roast.
Trying a different chowder in Maine at lunch everyday.
The coffee isn't great...but, there are some good baristas popping up in Brooklyn and NYC that are worth a try - my two favourite Cafes are:
Toby's Estate Coffee in East Village: 44 Charles St, New York
Think Coffee in Chelsea: 73 8th Ave, New York
Like Australia, the USA is culturally diverse with people from all walks of life looking for ways to make their mark and find their own path to success.
In Australia we speak about this diversity with terms like "multiculturalism" - in America, the term more often used is "melting pot".
But, in my opinion, these terms reflect something that is fundamentally different about the way our cultures view immigration and discrimination.
Putting my science cap on for just a few seconds, studies show that when we talk about differences between groups, we actually risk segregating them - this idea that we "tolerate" people with other beliefs and cultures and races - well the word tolerate says it all really doesn't it?
But when we focus on the things we have in common - the universal experiences we share as humans, it brings us together (because in many ways we're not so different after all)
That's what I love about the term "melting pot" - this idea that bringing cultures together is in fact part of the American identity.
I think in Australia, we underestimate the power of the perspective that everyone is welcome to come and add their flavour and voice and be part of the story rather than feel that they are an outsider who is tolerated.
I'm yet to actually DO this, but I think it would be a pretty awesome trip - start off in Colorado for a morning ski and then head down to California for a surf.
Ok yes, technically, maybe I could do this in Australia, but let's face it guys, our mountains suck. The best skiing in Australia is probably Mount Hotham, but even then, with 14 ski lifts, and only the densest of snow storms opening more than half of them - it's not quite the same thing.
America has vast spans of desert, wilderness, coastlines, mountainous terrains and natural wonders to explore. It's landscapes are beautiful and awe-inspring.
There are two things that I've learnt are key to seeing the opportunities that lay in front of you:
1) You need to be curious
2) You need to be open
Putting my neuroscience cap on, the two biggest hurdles to seeing opportunity are:
1) The belief that there aren't opportunities for you out there
2) The imposter syndrome
When people talk about things like "the law of attraction" - the idea that what you think will manifest itself in reality (also known as magical thinking, which is common in young children) - there is a tiny tiny piece of truth in there.
But it's not that opportunities present themselves because you thought them - it is that the opportunities have always been there, they just weren't salient to you.
Part of our brain's job is to act as a reality-filter: it pays attention to what it thinks is most important for survival whilst trying to conserve as much energy as possible.
Part of the American narrative is that it is a land of opportunity - and in that narrative there is a sense of identity in being curious and open-minded - in having eyes for opportunity and to pursue them regardless of where you've come from.
Rose-coloured glasses? Definitely. I am not immune to bias here. But I will also add that in Australia, and in Sydney especially, there are some glass ceilings that are pretty hard to smash. And I'm not saying this as a woman, I'm saying this as a woman who didn't go to one of those private boys schools twenty or thirty or forty years ago.
And whilst there is certainly nepotism wherever you go, including America, there are so many other opportunities to explore and a willingness to start a conversation, which is a significant help in balancing things out.
In America, returned soldiers and veterans are thanked for their service in the military.
I have friends who've served in the army and been on tours in Iraq and Afghanistan - and in Australia - it is simply not done, it is not a cultural norm to thank veterans for their service (and we don't do a very good job of looking after returned soldiers either...but that's a discussion for another time) but in America, it is actually pretty common to respond with gratitude when someone says they have served in the armed forces.
Soldiers don't just put their life on the line at times of war and have the physical and emotional scars to show for it as a result - they also play key roles in humanitarian aid and emergency disaster recovery.
In the past month, soldiers in Townsville have been helping the city to recover from devastating floods that have left many ill and homeless.
I'd never thought about thanking soldiers and members of the armed forces for their service - but now I do - because I believe it something that is worth being grateful for.
It's ok to be proud of the place you come from.
In the Australian media landscape, there is a lot of negativity about our country and all the problems we have that we're not dealing very well with.
Try reading through the paper and pick out the positive stories.
But is the negativity actually helpful?
It is easy to be critical of the things that we're doing wrong, the challenge is in being able to strike the balance between acknowledging what's working and what's not working.
Americans are often criticised for being nationalistic and close-minded people, but what I've personally found, is that many Americans are quick to acknowledge the challenges they are facing as a nation, but still also have a sense of appreciation for the country they live in.
It's very contagious and again - I think it's nice to be grateful and optimistic about the things that are going well whilst being informed about where there is room for improvement.
I've talked about the friendliness, openness and welcoming nature that I've experienced with the various American individuals I've met over the years.
But sharing is a bit different - sharing is two-way.
In my experience, openness in America extends to sharing - there is a willingness to do what is perhaps most scary of all - to be vulnerable, to show up, share views, beliefs and opinions.
Every person is different, no two individuals are alike, but humans are social creatures. Cultural norms and cultural identity - are a part of us whether we choose to accept it or go against the grain, we cannot completely ignore it nor escape it.
What I really love about being in America and being amongst American culture (not what we see on TV, I mean actually in America) is that what is valued and celebrated in America, is what I personally celebrate.
Freedom, Exploration, Adventure, Curiosity, Opportunity, Open-Mindedness, Friendliness, Bravery and Gumption - to name a few.
But maybe that's what was most salient to me to begin with.
What's your thoughts? What's been your experience? Do you agree? Disagree? Tell me what you think.
Lauren Kress, The Business Scientist is the CEO of The Change Makers, a Media Commentator, Podcast Host and Keynote Speaker