This is part of a continuing series by FOX News of unique perspectives on what it is to be an American.
Launa Costley, 49, is a self-proclaimed die-hard American patriot.
But don’t mistake her love of country as naiveté — it's the sentiment of a woman whose family has known poverty and discrimination and who has seen human suffering, up close, during her extensive travels around the world.
Costley's unwavering patriotism wasn’t always a part of her life. It wasn't until her teen years that she learned of her ancestors’ struggles and began to appreciate all that she has.
Costley’s great-great-grandfather fled to the U.S. from Sweden in 1857 in a desperate attempt to escape the religious persecution he faced for joining a church his village scorned.
“He had so little in Sweden that when he came to this country, he truly felt like a rich man in some ways,” Costley said. “When he came to Utah, he moved into a 10-by-20-foot cabin and called it a mansion.”
Initially, he was forced to leave two of his children behind because he did not have enough money to bring his whole family to the U.S.
“Being a mother, I can’t think of leaving my children behind … but that’s how important it was to them,” Costley, who now lives in Ogden, Utah said.
When she learned her family's struggles, the trajectory of Costley’s life changed, as she discovered a rich appreciation for both her own past and that of her country’s as well.
“It just became clear to me that if I didn’t know where I had been, I would never know where I was going,” she said.
So it was only natural for Costley to become a history teacher, but she struggled to impart her experiences to her students. "There is a huge difference between reading about history and seeing it live," she said.
About four years ago, Costley discovered how to reach them. While visiting a friend in Philadelphia, Costley and her children toured historic landmarks along the East Coast.
“I can’t explain what that experience did for me,” she said. “It just touched me so much and I thought that I had to find a way to share it.”
Operating on her own, Costley began to organize small group trips for her students from Utah to Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington. Along the way, the participants visited official landmarks, government offices and even the White House.
The trips were an immediate hit in her community, and the number of participants grew steadily. It is now an annual highlight not only for her students and their families, but for Costley as well, since she leads most of the tours.
“The trips serve to remind me of just how rich the history of this country is,” she said. “The bravery they possessed and the sacrifices they made all in the name of the greater good of the American people. If our Congress cared about us today the way they did, I don’t think we would have half of the issues that we have now.”
Her travels outside the U.S. have also informed her vision of her country.
“My travels have enabled me to see how other people in other nations live and that is priceless to me as an American teacher,” she said. “I tell my students and my own children that people come here for a better life and that they need to appreciate just how lucky they are to have grown up here.”
To further illustrate her point, Costley recalled an experience during her recent trip to the Eastern European country of Moldova.
“There was a woman selling her artwork in the park, and the pieces were these beautiful hand-painted and framed works. They were just wonderful and we bought three of them for $16 each. When we told her we wanted to buy three, she just cried and cried with tears of joy. She was just so grateful for that.”
“Sometimes, it’s not about the big moments that change your life, but instead, taking the small, everyday moments and remembering that those are what make up your life and identity.”
It is these small experiences that have enabled Costley to look beyond the difficult economic and societal issues that weigh heavily on the minds and hearts of Americans.
“You know, people talk a lot about how cynical most Americans are, but I don’t think that’s the case. Sure, we complain sometimes, but that is just venting,” she said. “I see an incredible amount of optimism among Americans and I think that is what makes us special.”