November 06, 2007

Americans Abroad, Follow-Up

A couple of comments in the Americans abroad post prompted Charlie to comment further.

One is the logistical issue associated with ROTC students finding their way abroad. She's embarrassed to admit that this hadn't occurred to her before (though she'll be sure to keep it mind when her brother is evaluating ROTC options in a couple years). She'll compound that embarrassment with the following question: are ROTC summers free? Not all study abroad needs to be done for a full semester; many universities offer excellent summer language programs. Obviously this requires a broader cultural change from the services (away from the tyranny of the engineers), but hopefully some progress is being made.

Relatedly, Charlie isn't convinced that European junket trips are totally worthless. Her first trip out of the country was a summer she spent in Germany. Nothing exotic about it at all. But even that small cultural adjustment was enough to engender a pretty stark realization about how two countries as similar as the US and Germany can see the world differently (and this was well before 9/11). Being an outsider, not being able to communicate well, living outside your comfort zone (even ever so slightly), sparks a degree of empathy that you can't fully appreciate until you've actually done it. Charlie's undergraduate advisor--a Middle East specialist (may she rest in peace)-- had a similar experience studying abroad in England. These experiences in and of themselves weren't radical, but they were life-changing in ways neither of us probably realized at the time.

Not everything you do when you're 20 or 22 needs to be quite so purposeful and directed as what the young Abu Muqawama was up to. If the kids want to spend a summer or semester getting drunk in Prague, Charlie is the last person who would stop them.