A study abroad program coordinator speaks out.
My name is Andy Donnelly I have been working as a study abroad coordinator for over thirteen years now. Each semester a fresh batch of 19-year-old children come into my life, ready and open to the world’s wonders, subsequently experiencing the time of their lives.
But when will it be my turn?
I live alone. Most of my time is spent recommending coffee shops in this foreign land to the bewildered American students. But I’ve lived in this foreign land for thirteen years now, shuffling students around the “best parts of town”, and nothing has sparked my bland consciousness yet. Nothing.
It’s not like I haven’t tried. I go on hikes every other weekend, backpack swinging on my shoulder, bandana around my head, and water bottle in tow, being sure to look the part. But Jesus Christ. Nothing’s hit yet. I don’t get it. I want so badly to feel what all of these kids are feeling. Some of them even abandon the construct of western religion after coming here. I remain bored, bouncing from coffee shop to coffee shop each day, trying to feel something.
Am I a husk? I couldn’t be. I am an American living abroad. That has to make me interesting, right? Thoughtful? I can say “thank you” in nine languages. The kids ask me for advice about how to make the most of their time here. I mutter the top five attractions that are listed on the homepage of every tourism website anyway.
The mountains are in fact really beautiful. But they’re mountains. Yes, there they are. Looking great and big. But how am I supposed to funnel that into a new life view?
I sincerely don’t know. I want this. It’s like I’m the 13-year-old kid in the locker room again, waiting to hit puberty, staring at all of my newly chest-haired classmates and listening tragically to their deep voices.
Is it nice to have a genuine conversation with a native about our respective upbringings and how they were similar/different? Of course. But they’re not zoo animals. They’re not a theme park ride I should take my picture in front of, thumbs up and nose sunburnt. They’re just a person I had a conversation with. What is wrong with my dull brain that makes me so goddamn unimpressed with myself? Maybe they said “heaps” instead of “a lot”. Yes, that’s adorable. But try as I might, it’s not penetrating my scope of myself and my ability to become transformed by full participation in the non-familiar land that surrounds me. It’s simply a word that I understand is different than the word that I grew up with because this person grew up in a different place than me. Is there something that I’m missing?
My stamps in my passport didn’t change me as a person and I didn’t see them as an exciting advancement of my interesting qualities as a human being. I legally had to get them to enter the country. Seriously…they don’t let you in unless you get those. Like, it’s part of the whole “arriving according to International Law” deal. Everyone has to get them.
The next batch of kids arrives tomorrow, and I will hand out their welcome bags with a smile on my face that covers a heart full of dread regarding all of the coffee shops I’m going to have to take these introspective little fuckers to.