Friday, September 17, 2010

Onion Article Touches on Travel Truth

I was flipping through The Onion the other day as I waited for the train, and I came across an article about how colleges are encouraging students to go abroad and "dick around." A quote from the article states:
According to a report published this week by the U.S. Department of Education, an increasing number of universities now offer dick-around abroad programs that give students the chance to hang out and do jack shit in another country.
 As anyone who reads the newspaper knows, the stories are completely fabricated and contain no real names or facts. But this article got me thinking about the time I spent abroad in Rome during my junior year of college. Yes, I had classes to attend, homework to do, tests to take, but in reality, I didn't work nearly as hard as I did when I was back in the U.S. I would skim through chapters, spend only an hour studying rather than my usual four and I never spent a Saturday sitting in the library writing a paper--except for that one final essay due for my Italian Literature class, but whose counting? Europe turned me into a bit of a slacker, or at least as much of one as I could possibly be. Then I really thought about it...I went out a lot, partied until the wee hours of the morning, drank way too much wine for my own good and met some interesting people along the way. And I was not alone in my escapades, my classmates were right by my side. Perhaps The Onion is on to something.

While the article takes it to the next level with statements like, "The chance to spend every night partying in pretty much the same way they would have at home is an experience they'll never forget," and "many students won't even apply to a school that doesn't provide programs that allow them to take bong hits in major world cities for academic credit," there is a hint of truth in their satirical wit. Students traveling abroad have the luxury of a more laid-back schedule. Many programs do not offer classes on Fridays, so students can have more time to travel around the country, or venture over to other countries, a privilege their colleges at home would never think of giving them. For many students, classes only count for credit, the grade does not affect their GPA; so as long as they pass, that's all that matters. This takes a lot of pressure off students to perform well, so they can spend less time studying and more time exploring--or partying.

The article exaggerates the point that students are wasting their time abroad, spending all their free time doing absolutely nothing of consequence. (Obviously, I know the writers do not actually believe that, but for the sake of argument...) I disagree. I would say all of my activities abroad were very worthwhile, even the nights out at the bars. I got to explore an ancient city, visit gorgeous monuments, learn about Rome's bloodied past and witness true works of art. A day walking around the city was not a waste, but an eye opening experience to another culture. The free time I was granted gave me the chance to do things I never thought I'd be able to do: take a tapas tour in Barcelona, shop in the streets of Vienna, ride a gondola in Venice, go skydiving in Switzerland. I would not say any of those experiences were moments of "dicking around."

The classes that I took over there educated me to a certain degree in the areas of literature and philosophy, but it's the stuff I learned outside the classroom that really stayed with me over the years. So I will proudly tell all those college students out there to go ahead and sign up for one of these dick-around-and-do-nothing study abroad will truly be one of the best things you ever do.

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