Thursday, January 10, 2008

America in Romania

"I felt like I went to America today."  These were the words of our 18 year-old Romanian guide today after accompanying us to a monastery, church and castle in nearby Hunedoara.  Robbie is a particularly helpful young man who has been singled out for potential admission to a peer Christian liberal arts institution in Iowa (Northwestern) and who also speaks nearly flawless English (in addition to four other languages).  He made this comment after riding with us in our "maxi-taxi", a 19 passenger over-sized van,  sharing Starburst candies and Hershey's kisses, listening to English, and watching a few more episodes of "The Office."   So what felt to us like a day in a strange and foreign, even exotic land, was to Robbie a trip to America.

Robbie's comment was a reminder to me, and to all of us, of the nature of interim travel abroad.  Wherever we go, we carry with us a dual persona - on the one hand we are students (and a professor) and this is a teaching and learning opportunity with all sorts of experiential facets to it.  But on the other hand,  no matter how hard we try, we cannot avoid the fact that we are also tourists.  And being tourists, particularly American tourists, carries a variety of unavoidable baggage with it.  In Romania fortunately, most of this baggage is positive, but when you don't speak a language, and you don't understand customs or street signs, you are inherently "other" and thereby outside a culture.  

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Being "other" can be intensely uncomfortable. Everyone should have this feeling at least once in a lifetime. It really shakes you up. I experienced the same feelings when I took a group of students to the Philippines in 1999. One thing that made us particularly uncomfortable was encountering children who were constantly "in our faces" wanting to sell us stuff (Manila). What's the Christian response? We struggled with this.