It’s hard to believe that 20 years ago Ana Gordon Volpi and I were both in the middle of our semester abroad in Israel, she in the hills of Jerusalem at Hebrew University and me soaking up the Mediterranean sun at Tel Aviv University. Right about now I had just showed up at Ana’s apartment after a spring break in Egypt and Jordan and far removed from a shower.
What is even more remarkable than the fact that 20 years has passed is how fundamentally different our experiences would have been, primarily due to technology (we’ll park geopolitics in the corner for this post). Hearkening back to the 1995 study abroad experience, we had to do things like:
What weren’t we doing?
In short, technology would have circumvented the immersion and isolation that came with plopping yourself into another country for six months. Sure, the American students stuck together as we explored and annoyed people in our host countries, but aside from our immediate compatriots we were not sharing the experience with anyone.
We weren’t worried about how many people had “liked” our sunrise picture on Mt. Sinai and we felt no obligation to comment on how drunk Jenny got at the Sigma Alpha Zeta party on Saturday night. We returned home with unexpected facial hair and new worldviews able to form during months of independence from the opinions of our regular circles of friends.
That’s not to say technology doesn’t bring some positives to the study abroad experience:
Despite all that, I wouldn’t trade in what I experienced 20 years ago and it’s sad that short of a massive power outage or maybe a trip to Antarctica my own kids will never have that type of trip. Then again, I’ll probably feel a lot better seeing their icon on the Find My Friends app and following them on their social networks instead of getting unpredictable collect calls from a payphone like my parents did.
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