Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A New-Old Perspective of the World

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A New-Old Perspective of the World

Article excerpt

In the weeks prior to my son's departure for his college semester abroad, it's not the Eiffel Tower that keeps surfacing in my memory. Instead, it is the image of a roll of toilet paper outside a stall in Paris, inside the ultramodern Georges Pompidou Center for the Arts - toilet paper whose position requires my retracing my steps, retrieving the toilet paper, and reentering the stall.

As I describe this moment, this architectural metaphor, more than two decades later, my 21-year-old son smiles. Inside the world he knows, my little brush with the surreal is not a grand event. He's been weaned on "Monty Python" and "The Simpsons," "The Daily Show" and "MADtv." The experiences he feeds into his generation's wry view of the world are more expansive than mine ever were.

My son has already had at least a dozen friends fan out over the world and return to share their experiences of Japan, Somalia, the Netherlands, South Africa, New Zealand, India - with inside-out moments aplenty.

My son will be one of more than 200,000 American college students studying abroad this year. Paris, a name whose mere utterance evoked a thrill in my generation, now competes with venues that until recently were in the domain of the exotic. One almost needs to be an artist or a jazz musician, like my son, to opt for the established charms of Paris, rather than joining one's politically or ecologically driven contemporaries.

Where once this process of broadening oneself was accessible only to the wealthy, today, economic barriers are carefully addressed: Students are encouraged to share in the pursuit, with financial aid helping families below certain income levels. For a growing number of students, study abroad seems to have become a new rite of passage.

7What an amazing ebb and flow of youthful humanity, of cultures and values, is this business of a semester abroad.

I think back to the Pompidou Center, to my inside-out moment more than 20 years ago. And I think back even further, when I arrived in New York City, a 10-year-old in a family fleeing the Hungarian Revolution. …

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