On Monday my Spanish professor gave a short lecture on the value of study abroad, saying (essentially) that the things you learn in immersing yourself in another culture are absolutely invaluable. He also said that during one's college years is the best time to go, because afterwards responsibilities and costs of adult life take over and travel becomes exponentially more difficult, if not impossible.
I completely agree with him - I would love nothing more than to use my time and the excuse of studying to venture beyond U.S. borders and see what the world is actually like elsewhere. In the same vein, we discussed the things Americans take for granted which those in other countries can only dream of - namely financial resources and the ease with which an American citizen can achieve passports and exit passes. Listening to and discussing this made me feel quite sad for a variety of reasons. While it's true, my living conditions and resources probably far outstrip those of other 20-year-old women around the world, travel is just as much an unrealistic dream for me as it generally is for them, on account of my own crippling limitations in funding.
But it's about more than just my own bitterness about the stinginess of our government in helping students achieve educational goals. It's about how someone with such a comfortable living situation and a plethora of resources can still feel so dejected...perhaps more so than my peers abroad. After reading an excerpt from Willie Weir's Travels With Willie about Americans' resources versus those of other citizens' abroad, we (the class) marveled at one Cuban woman's managing to become fluent in 4 languages with no more than a tape recorder...which she'd purchased through money earned from raising a pig. To think what she could accomplish with language courses like the one I'm currently failing is humbling to say the least.
I left that class feeling a profound sense of sadness and cynicism. It's true, I have so much to be thankful for here in the U.S., and yet I am in that particular bracket that makes tapping the resources at hand almost more trouble than it's worth. Both from a sense of pointlessness (why bother, it's not like I have the time or money) or simple despair (there's too many hoops to jump through and I'd probably come up empty-handed anyway). In a way it made me feel isolated...I'm the only person my age (that I know of, currently) who has never once in their life left the country. There's at least one luxury that most if not all my American peers take for granted which I can count myself exempt from...good for me. I can't help but feel awfully bitter when I hear friends of mine pine to "go back" to whatever country they visited in high school...at least they've been once, more than I can say...but apparently that's not enough for them.
America is a difficult country to love sometimes. Its inhabitants are either grossly self-absorbed, incurably consumeristic, downright stupid, or all of the above. My professor mentioned this (more diplomatically of course), mainly focusing on how Americans are "so content with their situation here" that they have no desire to learn about other cultures' way of life. He talked about the crippling poverty in other countries and how THEIR inhabitants can't even entertain hopes of travel because its costs make that utterly impossible. But ironically, it's currently the same way for me...and I am a child of one of the richest countries in the world. True, I COULD travel one day (many many years from now) when I save enough money, but there's no guarantee my circumstances will allow for it.
I suppose the moral of the story is make no generalizations because there's always that one, angry exception whose exemption from the rule will make her even more bitter than she was before she walked into your class.