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ISSUE 121 VOL 7 PUBLISHED 11/9/2007

Go acculturate

By Emily Williams
Opinion Editor


Friday, November 9, 2007

Why are American colleges and universities suddenly steadfast in their commitment to providing study-abroad opportunities for their students? I'm even studying abroad next semester in Aberdeen, Scotland. I too shape the trend.

The answer to my question seems obvious. We American students are notorious for our relative global unawareness. We need to see the rest of the world.

The New York Times just recently published an article by Laura Pappano entitled "The Foreign Legions," which discussed current study-abroad trends among American undergraduate students. Pappano wrote, "There is a consensus today& that globally fluent graduates are essential to American competitiveness. International exposure, whether study, volunteer work or internship, has become a must-have credential."

Why do most American undergraduates rely on college to provide foreign immersion experiences? Why don't we instead take a risk and commit to traveling after graduation? Why travel now? It's because we're institutionalized. The majority of us seek programs instead of unguided (and perhaps unprotected) real world experiences. We're Americans. The international quotidian might rattle us.

The summer after my junior year in high school, I lived with a French family for three weeks and, at first, it did rattle me. I remember sitting on the plane feeling terrified. I sat, a buckled statuette, and felt the bounding nerves aggravate my body. I felt trapped.

When I arrived, my host sister asked me a question that I didn't understand. I laughed slowly. A blush seized control of my entire face, and I shamefully surrendered. "Je ne comprends pas." She giggled and restated the question three times before I understood that she was asking whether I had eaten well on the plane. So I said, "Oui." You bet. The adjustment was uncomfortably slow.

Pappano describes the lush living conditions of American students studying at the New York University Center located in Ghana. She wrote, "American students expect a standard of food and housing (and sleep) that is not typical in West Africa... Its nearby complex has air-conditioning (power guaranteed), 24-hour security, an on-site nurse, wireless Internet& [Students] eat in a dining hall that serves African food interpreted for the American palate,' says Yaw Nyarko, vice provost for...multicultural affairs at N.Y.U. Some, he says, think the accommodations are better than New York's."

Given St. Olaf's dedication to program-based study-abroad experiences, I hope Oles will choose to personalize their time overseas and seek food uncomplimentary to the "American palate." Above all, I hope more St. Olaf graduates will choose to live abroad indefinitely after commencement, and I hope they will work to immerse themselves in cultures distinct from their own instead of pursuing corporate positions at Target.





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