True to my Northeastern US upbringing, I tend to want things to happen now, if not yesterday. A common expression in our house when the kids were young was “Chop! Chop!” It could have meant “If you don’t eat that last shrimp on your plate right now, I just might!” Or maybe it meant “Bedtime was 2 minutes ago!” Or even “Let’s go – you should have had your coat on and been in the car 4 minutes ago!”
You see, I am very good at establishing a plan. As you may have also noticed, I tend to use my minutes wisely, squeezing in one or two more things to be (Northeastern US) super-efficient.
I am currently traveling in Panama with a group of students from Saint Rose. This is my 10th time traveling abroad with students. My three separate study abroad experiences as an undergraduate and graduate student were fundamental in helping me catch the travel bug. I love to travel, and have been lucky to have visited many countries, with multiple visits to quite a few of them.
With each new group that I travel with, it becomes increasingly more difficult to remember just exactly what it feels like to be out of the country for the first time, to be faced with unknown sights, sounds and smells. For this younger generation of students, add to the fact that this may be the first time they are not accessible immediately by phone, text or social media.
While my travel courses started off focused heavily on language acquisition, over the years I have shifted to include an equally balanced focus on intercultural learning. Again, the ability to remember my own starting point is increasingly difficult.
The first time I studied abroad, it was not the first time I was on an airplane, but it was the first time I had a passport in my hand. It was also the first time I had traveled to New York City, which we studiously avoided, going straight to JFK. I had also avoided politics and world events prior to that year abroad, being entirely clueless about what the “right” or the “left” stood for, meant, implied, short of using them in giving directions to get from point A to point B, of course.
I am fortunate to have a very good group of students this year. Policing alcohol consumption is not necessary. Phew. I don’t think this group will paint themselves either. (Last year, three tattoos, the previous trip one.) Second phew.
Patience. Remember that part of adjusting to being abroad is finding a close connection from home within your group. Remember that listening to advice doesn’t usually work (“Make sure you have your raincoat or umbrella with you always”), but firsthand experience often does (“I didn’t bring my umbrella, so I am soaked and miserable right now”). Remember that these kids are used to having their parents tell them what to do, where to be, and what to wear when traveling, as well as passively following along as their parents find out and follow through with all the details of getting from point A to point B.
Patience. Let the students start their individual journeys, not my journey.
Patience. Let a starting point be a true starting point.
Patience. Let digital natives be digital natives.