Explaining the difference between "the States" and "USA"
When I arrived at my site my host family asked me where I was from originally.
I ignored the fact that they were really asking, “From which country in Africa is your family?”, because they weren’t the first people here to ask me that. Because my family has been in Alabama for over 200 years and we haven’t been able to trace back to a particular country in Africa yet and because they had been referring to the U.S.A. as "the States", I answered that I was from "the States". They then asked if I was from California and I answered, "No, that's a different state, I'm from Alabama". This confused them because even though they used "the States" to refer to the U.S.A., they didn't understand what states actually were. I pulled up a map that I saved on my phone and I pulled a dollar bill out of my wallet. I showed them the 48 continental states, explained why they start small in the east and get larger as you move west. I explained the process to statehood and then showed them "E Pluribus Unum" on the dollar bill and explained "out of many one". I said that even though we struggle with it frequently, we as a country pride ourselves on the parts that make the whole. Whether we're talking about states or people, our many differences and experiences come together to create a stronger and better country.
In the end it took comparing our states to districts here in Belize but they understood. Sometimes they still talk about my "country" Alabama and it makes me smile, it reminds me of people back home who say that visiting Alabama is like visiting a different country, but my host family members usually catch themselves and correct their mistake before I can get to it.