Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I Once Went to a Museum and Ate Some Paella too...

Last week a buddy of mine sent me a BBC article regarding the current state of unrest in Egypt over Hosni Mubarek's refusal to step down as president. The article really presented a unique perspective on the daily protests taking place in Cairo. Was it written by a seasoned veteran field reporter from the BBC? No. Was it an insightful interview with a local Egyptian involved with the protests? No. Was it an eye-opening alternate perspective from one of Mubarek's supporters in Cairo? Nope. Obviously this article was the written opinion of a 23 year old British kid studying Arabic abroad in Cairo, who had joined in the protests over the last week. This jolly young chap assured the readers that the Egyptian people he was protesting with were extremely nice and treated him like a member of their family. Meanwhile, apparently crowds of Mubarek supporters on the other side of the conflict were a bunch of meanies who threatened him and his pals with vulgar insults. Upon reading this brilliant think piece from Winston Churchhill Jr. I had some strong social viewpoints of my own validated. Namely, the fact that in my humble opinion study abroad students are all fucking douchebags.

Seriously study abroad students are among the most obnoxious collection of pretentious tools on the entire planet. Seriously these fucktards have their heads so far up their own asses they could perform daily colonoscopies on themselves. As is the most case with most cool things that kids today ruined, the concept of studying abroad for a semester was great in principle. Instead of limiting your educational experience to the classrooms of your college campus, why not go out and learn something about the world outside of your own borders? Go out and familiarize yourself with a foreign culture. Pick up a foreign language. Try out new foods and customs. Witness the sights and sounds of another country. Then return home, and WHEN ASKED about your experience studying overseas, briefly tell us what you found most interesting, what you ate, and what tourist attractions you checked out. Done. If this were the standard procedure for kids who study abroad I would have no issue with this form of educational program. Of course this is never the case. Just as kids today can't simply say something positive about their favorite new hipster band without evoking hyperbole that makes them sound like the next Led Zeppelin, they also can't simply "enjoy" their foreign travels. No, for every kid that studied abroad had an experience that was "UNBELIEVABLE!" or "AMAAAZING!." And they will spare you no detail as to why their semester was so much more interesting than yours.

First of all, as evidenced by the aforementioned amateur BBC reporter from Cairo, when you study abroad within about a month you are officially an expert on all political, cultural and social issues of that nation. They will tell you what ethnic groups are the most divided over there. They will tell you how that country's residents feel about America, Britain or whatever allied country they happen to hail from, generally dispelling stereotypes you previously held. This is of course based on the fact that their assigned student sponsor or tour guide took them to a flea market, showed them the city's hottest dance club and taught them some slang terms, all while not stealing their passport or Ipod. Based on this ambassador of goodwill who they've been facebook friends with for a month now, study abroad students can tell you with 100% certainty that our perceptions of that country were completely wrong and that "They really don't have ill feelings towards America. Everybody was really nice to us." Yeah thanks, of course the foreign students in your exchange/study abroad program or your local sponsor were totally swell. They're kinda you know...educated..and supposed to be diplomatic. If a foreign exchange student comes to America they will probably have a high opinion of the Georgetown students or nice midwestern family they stay with too. However if we sent these kids to be shown around Biloxi, Mississippi by a couple of rednecks they'd probably feel a little less welcome. So maybe don't jump to conclusions on how an entire nation feels based on the opinion of one friendly kid you got drunk with who taught you how to say "cocksucker" in French.

Along with the fact that students gain the ability to solve all complex foreign conflicts between nations upon completing their study abroad experience, they also gain an insight into why the country they visited is so much nicer than the good ol' US of A. This is usually expressed through their longing for "real Italian food" or lamenting of the fact that "Guiness really tastes so much better in the UK/Ireland where it's served at a lukewarm temperature." Civil war and aviation museums in America no longer compare to the beautiful art museums and engineering exhibits they saw in Paris and Prague. This is all assuming of course that they visited Europe. If they visited a 3rd world country in say South America or Africa, they will regale you with tales of how much they miss the "personality" of the country they studied in. This is to say they miss taking pictures of themselves with impoverished minority children, gypsies, and farm animals wearing the area's traditional garb. "Just such a simple, beautiful culture over there, you couldn't imagine." Really? You long for the experience of hugging smelly children and holding goats? Go visit rural Tennessee. Fortunately when encountering these future peace-corp volunteers you don't have to hear about how much better the food was over there. Generally when all you have to work with in the kitchen cupboard is rocks, grasshoppers and sticks, you're not gonna be able craft too much gourmet cuisine for your backpacker guests from UVA.

Anyways I'm obviously not opposed to foreign travel. Once I have money I'd like to do the Anthony Bourdain thing and travel to some foreign countries, eating exotic foods and drinking beers with a higher alcohol %. Just..you won't be hearing all about how it changed my life and I now have a complex understanding of another culture that you can't relate to. I won't be bitching to you about how some beer with a "Veissen" or "Gartner" in it's name is far better than Coors Original. Most of all, I will not be longing to leave my comfortable existence in the greatest nation in the world to permanently reside in the mountains with goats and poor kids. So stop blowing yourselves study abroaders. Just because you've been to an art museum and enjoyed a bowl of authentic "ceviche" doesn't mean you're Christopher Colombus.