Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Study abroad available at home

Everyone wants to study abroad. You rarely come across anyone who looks back on their experience negatively. They have their stories, and when they recount one, there are smiles on their faces and a twinkles in their eyes that tell you how much they value those memories.
If asked to say something interesting about themselves, people may be inclined to say, I studied abroad in for a semester.The conversation may evolve into a shared interest in a language, a culture or the desire to make out with someone simply because of their accent. This is interesting. But the conversation could also turn to the death knell topics of major, hometown and career. Yawn. If I wanted to discuss topics like that, I’d be at home with my parents and family friends, listening to opinions I neither share nor endorse, sipping a mediocre American lager in lieu of answering a question for the ump-teenth time.

Everyone knows about the good times abroad, and everyone knows what a stale question is. Yet most people don’t realize that location need not weigh in as a factor determining whether you’ll recycle the same small talk with the same people or choose something more.You would say that a large part of why you had fun abroad was the people that live there, correct?I have amazing news for you: Tons of them go to your school. That’s right, for the low cost of free, you can meet some of these amazing people indigenous to the lands you love traveling. And yet, many people do not take advantage of this. It is baffling.Had a great time in Berlin? There are two German girls standing in line to get food ahead of you. Did you party in Beirut? Talk about it with that Lebanese engineer. Do you like authentic Asian food? I’ve had conversations with Koreans that started out based solely on a mutual love for kimchi. If you are raising your eyebrows, rest assured that it is possible to talk about fermented cabbage for half an hour.

Unfortunately, most humans find homogeneity both safe and acceptable. By nature of hanging out with people similar to you, you aren’t around those who are different. You ask the same questions and give out tired answers. I’m looking at you, fraternal orders. I’m also looking at you, international students. For you, being in Florida is studying abroad. Do you want to spend your time here going out of your way to hang out with people as similar to you as you could find? It is important to question when this kind of behavior is based on a real connective experience with someone else or if it’s just a safety blanket.

For those who grew up stateside, an amazing thing happens when one starts to become good friends with non-Americans: Your views are challenged. Interacting with someone different makes even your basic, stale questions interesting. You realize the observations you are inundated with come from a single culture, a tunnel-vision perspective. When you open a dialogue with someone who grew up very different from you, it becomes easy to listen to views that differ from your own, because the person you are talking to is speaking from personal experience.The world is getting smaller every day. I have more in common with someone my age from the Netherlands than with people who grew up in the same area of Florida 20 years earlier. With the advent of social networking and Skype, it’s easy to stay in touch with people. Having an international network of friends is a good feeling. It gives you reason to travel abroad again. Maybe you can meet their friends from their home, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be less inclined to ask everyone what their major is.

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