Ben Feinberg, a faculty member in the social sciences department at Warren Wilson College, published an article entitled "What Students Don't Learn Abroad" in The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2002. I just read the text as an assignment for my field study prep class. The essence of the article is that students (and, by extension, Americans) are more interested in themselves than the foreign people and culture while living abroad and that this attitude is a result of the conditioning from American media. Here's the most repulsive example from the article:
When a promotional piece for the reality-TV program The Amazing Race shows an American woman in a clearly foreign space--perhaps India--she is not troubled, confused, or interested in her environment. Instead, she strips down to a bikini emblazoned with a U.S. flag to get directions to the next challenge from a bug-eyed and eager native . . . . That young woman clearly did not travel to broaden her horizons. For her, India becomes, as much as Salt Lake City or Kandahar, a place for aggressive performances of her American identity--unwrapping herself in the flag, so to speak.
Feinberg states the motivation for studying abroad: "in today's interconnected world, it is more important than ever that students be attuned to the nuances of cultural difference." My idea of the value of my field study in India is the inherent value of the Tibetan people themselves, and the resulting relevance of their lives and experiences.
I'd like to think that BYU students are different than the ones interviewed for Feinberg's article. I hope that my peers and I will be genuinely interested in the people and culture around us as we travel around the world. Probably, Feinberg's sample didn't include any of the excellent students found in Provo :)
Photo credit Gurumustuk Singh