Updated on June 12, 2010
Coming from a University where study abroad is a common thread between students, it’s not uncommon to hear students ask each other “Where do you plan on studying abroad?” Actually, since joining a sorority on campus I have been taught to ask this when evaluating a potential new member.
But what strikes me most about this phrase is not the varied responses, or really not so varied as most students want to go to western, English-speaking countries, but how everybody acts impressed after the answer. Maybe because that person has been thinking about studying abroad the place is instantly interesting and exotic?
How exotic, how exciting and how fascinating are regular responses to a student telling another where they would like to study abroad. But this always makes me wonder, what are they calling exotic, exciting and fascinating?
Most students who study abroad from my little institution in central North Carolina go to western countries. Many go to English speaking countries, and nearly all that go to a non-English speaking nation have a translator present. Students are also instructed to stick together, not to talk to the locals, and make sure not to drink the water. So, again, why is this exotic?
I believe that the places students are going to are supposed to be exotic. The customs, prejudices, food, and people they encounter are all new but I think what they are referring to is actually the view. The buildings and terrain are generally very different from what we know in America.
The most interesting part of traveling that I noticed was that as much as everything around is different, everything around is also vaguely familiar. People still tend to live in towns or at least villages together; most places have cars or public transportation, pets, a monetary system, and no matter where you go-people are still people.
People are never exotic, although their customs or beliefs may be different enough for us to call them that. Most people will still enjoy eating, sleeping, and listening to music. Most people enjoy the company of others and enjoy sitting and chatting. So I urge travelers not to always stick together, to try some of the native foods, and definitely to talk with the locals. People will always be people, never something to call exotic.