Studying abroad has almost become a staple for American college students. It provides students with the opportunity to live abroad for a few months at least. It allows them to experience a new culture and throw themselves into an unfamiliar environment that they might otherwise never experience. In Richard Slimbach’s book Becoming World Wise he describes American students studying abroad as long term tourists. Slimbach writes, “American students abroad may not have stars-and-stripes patches sewn onto their backpack, or see themselves as having much in common with their ‘tourist’ counterparts on luxury cruises and package tours. But neither are they eager to relinquish many of the comfortable amenities and social networks of home.” (Slimbach 35). I don’t fully disagree with him either, I’ve seen it first hand. I think a lot of people study abroad for the experience of studying abroad. They do all the tourist things and travel every weekend to try and get as much as they can out of the experience but they seem to just scratch the surface of many different cultures. Students like this are forever tourists because they don’t want to adapt to fit into the culture. They still hold onto their American ideologies and strictly compare differences to the way things are “back home”. These students surround themselves with other study abroad English speaking students who are going through the same experience. I think in every study abroad group the majority of the students behave like this, and I hate to admit it but I am one of them.
Study abroad students are thrown into a far away country, with a new culture, and a different language. Our friends and family are left behind so we gravitate towards the people most similar to us, the other study abroad students. We hang out with them on small islands that isolate us from the new culture. All the while we are taking pictures and writing blog posts about how much more culturally attuned we have become. Slimbach sums up my opinion the best when he says, “… [Abroad Students] who use internet cafes to send dispatches from a ‘field’ they are largely detached from to a ‘home’ that they never really left” (Slimbach 36). I think its very difficult to fully immerse yourself in a culture especially today when we are so easily connected with the people back home.
There aren’t too many ways to escape from the hold technology has had on our generation but I think there are good ways to exude global responsibility when abroad. Volunteering and community work are great ways to become more culturally aware and even leave a positive impact on the people abroad. I like to think about the ripple effects these small deeds might have after I leave. Maybe by volunteering at a local farm and just helping out I can make the food produced more affordable and indirectly help someone in need.