Monday, July 22, 2013

If we had blogs in 1997: Reflections on semester 1

Before I start posting the next semester of my 1997-1998 study abroad journal, I thought I should take some time to reflect upon the first one. The time was window shopping, seeing things from the outside. I was still an Ohioan, yet to become a citizen of the world. But I had seen those things, even if from the outside, things you can't find in isolated corners of the world.

Southwest Ohio hadn't experience a conflict since the civil war. It had never felt the rain of bombs from an aerial war. It had never known life after the apocalypse, rebuilding a town from rubble, the rebirth that is possible from the ashes of devastation, the reconciliation that can bloom from the deepest hatreds. Had I not traveled to and lived on a continent fifty years removed from attempted suicide, I'd be disconnected from these realities like most Americans are today. I was especially drawn to the post-Soviet new world order, curious about how the planet would change, skeptical about the triumph of liberal democracy as Fukuyama so arrogantly had proclaimed. I saw bullet-riddled buildings in East Berlin; military cemeteries in France, Germany, and Luxembourg; went to concentration camps, museums, and memorials; and met people whose lives had forever been altered by the tragedy of war. I saw the European Union as the grandest anti-war experiment the world has ever known. No, I did not experience an active conflict at that time, but it became real to me over there.

So, too, did the little orange and yellow and green spots on a map. People lived in these spots, people who laughed, cried, had families, went to work, and all of the same things we as Americans did. In fact, I learned that Europeans did a lot of things better than we did, that they lived fuller lives than us, ate better food, treated their citizens as human beings rather than consumers or producers of labor. I wasn't questioning the rationality of nationality yet, but a seed had certainly been planted within me.

I didn't make the dean's list that semester thanks to Tony Steinhoff. To have one professor in charge of six of your credit hours makes things tough, especially when he does not give A's or when he has the personality of a doorknob and you're reading books like Wealth of Nations and The Leviathan and going on week-long trips that are so disorganized you don't even know who Christophe Plantin is at the end of a week during which he is a central character. The thing about the class is that it would have helped me a great deal if I had learned more about the ideas we were reading, if I could remember the central tenets of Hobbes or Locke or Rousseau even the next semester for my academic work. But the class was so dull and seemingly followed no logical order that I failed to retain most of it and had to learn it myself years later. A great opportunity to learn it in the place where it happened was missed.

But that wasn't really the point of going abroad. Originally, the point was to get away from the monotony of Ohio. I chose to go to Miami because of the Luxembourg program; my student tour guide of the university was going the next semester and it was all she talked about on the tour. I think of the series of coincidences that put me in Luxembourg - how I was only on that tour to get out of a day of high school and how I heard of the school because a rep was at my high school and I wanted to get out of physics class - and it reminds me how life is funny like that, how even a second can change the course of our lives forever.

Now more than ever Americans are afraid of all things foreign. Only a quarter of us even hold a passport. We should be pushing study abroad for everyone. Experience erases fear. And Americans certainly wouldn't let their government get away with the things it does in their name if they better understood the world. Besides, the world is a wondrous place, full of seemingly impossible places and feats and stories and people and beauty. To ignore all of that is, well, criminal. Evil, even.

No comments:

Post a Comment