Monthly Archives: December 2000

Thoughts on Study Abroad

Thoughts on learning that Miami students attending Luxembourg have modern creature comforts these days:

A very good friend of mine with whom I studied in Luxembourg is now studying the art of acting in London. She was unhappy to learn that another person from Miami University was also enrolled at the British theatre school.

My sister traveled to Hawaii for her honeymoon, and was unhappy to run into someone she knew from Miami (who was also on a honeymoon) at her hotel.

The bubble of unique experience in that collection of experiences that defines us was broken, and the six degrees for a brief time looked back at them from the mirror. But if I know them both, they shoved those brief intrusions into their subjective worlds into the backs of their perceptual closets — and cherished their unique experiences. A wise thing to do in my opinion, and something at which I am quite adept.

And so in order to settle an unrelated dispute regarding how old Miami University is (its the 7th oldest publicly assisted university in the nation), I was on the Miami web site tonight. I was drawn to the Luxembourg section, and was soon reading about the Castle at Differdange. The marketing material notes that the students will live in the castle — in a dorm setting, with all of the modern conveniences:on-site laundry, email and internet access, etc….

All experiences are unique since they are through our own eyes and interpreted through are own minds. The Rashomon journey of life is real to all of us who choose to look out the window — even when the person next to us on the train starts speaking English and saying “you guys!”. And I was struck by the fact that I am so happy that my particular experience in Luxembourg was prior to the “modern conveniences” that are now offered students. It is not only character building to walk to school both ways up hill in the snow, to chop wood for the fire and to read by candlelight, but it is FUN! The differentness of Europe (which admittedly was slight) was what made the experience for me into such a memorable one. That and the relationships that were formed.

I think that somehow my own experience would have been diminished had I lived in a dorm — a recreation of “Miami life” in a different land. If I didn’t wash out my socks at night. If I didn’t have to actually write a letter and WAIT to receive one. Internet and email access would have shortened the distance. The entire experience would have been an extended tap on the shoulder from friends and family back home — they all would have been there with me — with us!! The uniqueness — the differentness — the living with another family in another land — it would all have been gone.The host family with whom my sister stayed while in Luxembourg came all the way to Cincinnati to attend her wedding. That is a connection, an experience, that she would never have gotten had she been in the dorm at Differdange. Yes, she would have had other experiences. But to my biased eye, it would have been too similar to that which she had left behind.

And so my point is that the world is shrinking. That it had really shrunk incredibly by the time that I got here and that I have to keep inventing frontiers, and imagining that I don’t see the t-shirt shop at the top of my mountainous hike. My reward at the vista is the conscious ignorance that it has been done before and will be done many times over again. Just like our life on this planet without our archeological insight…

Differdange looks nice. It looks luxurious in a way. But I am happy, so very happy that I lived in one small room with no washing machines, no electronics, no party going on in the next room. And I am happy that I slept on church doorsteps, that I slept in trains, that I slept whereever I could find when I was locked out of the hostels at night. Because my experience is one that escaped by just the slightest of margins the world changing, world shrinking, world unifying force of the internet, of digital technology, of the falling of Eastern Europe and Germany to Smithian ideal. Because my experience had just a taste of the old world that I sought in Europe, a taste that I fear may be experienced today with only forceful discipline. Because, to be honest, email communication is a drug that is hard, so very hard, to refuse. Had I had it, I would have used it…who wouldn’t? I would have been privy to all of the gossip back in the land that I wanted to forget — if just for a little while.

And I am happy, of course, because it is MY EXPERIENCE and like everyone else I suffer the god complex of memory: it was always better when we were young.

(12/00)

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