Breaking Out of UC Bubble

Let me be one of the first to admit: We college kids are a
rather pretentious and arrogant bunch.

Most of us love feigning that we’ve been around the block a
few times, acting like we know what we’re doing with our lives and criticizing
everyone around us because we clearly know better than the rest of the world.
We also enjoy deluding ourselves by thinking that we’re the most cultured,
globally concerned, politically knowledgeable and talented group of scholars
out there. To be frank, in spite of all our book-smarts, the majority of us
shouldn’t be giving ourselves that much credit.

I, too, have often fallen into this unsavory category of
overconfident, self-entitled university students. I hardly ever fail to find a
good excuse as to why my teachers are completely unjust in their grading
systems, and hardly acknowledge advice
from friends and family because I like to believe that I’m always right. In
fact, it took an entire summer of being emerged in the culture and lifestyle of
a foreign country before I finally began to realize how little I actually knew
about the world.

Fortunately, this startling realization was one of the most
rewarding and enlightening experiences that I could hope for, and I can’t say
that the rest of my ever-so-brilliant and culturally-aware colleagues wouldn’t
benefit from the same sort of experience.

For a great number of us, it is difficult to see a world
outside the cozy confines of Geisel library, Price Center
eateries, themed house parties and our happy moments solving the Guardian’s
sudoku puzzles during class instead of paying attention to our oftentimes-bland
lectures on thermodynamics or electromagnetism. We get so embroiled in the
unending flurry of papers, midterms, lunch dates and reality television shows,
that it’s often hard for us to look beyond our day-to-day college experiences
and explore the world in its entirety.

For these reasons, it comes as a surprise to many of us that
there is a realm outside of our demanding college lives and, yes, even outside
of the United States,
just waiting to be explored. We may read about it in the newspapers, or catch
glimpses of it on the evening news (though many of us would rather watch the
latest episode of the Office instead), but experiencing it for ourselves
firsthand is something completely different, and also completely necessary, if
we would like to label ourselves as informed and cultured individuals.

When I finally left San Diego’s confines to study abroad in
Siena, Italy, I was thrilled to learn what the lands beyond California had to
offer. My journey from

Rome up through the rolling hills of Tuscany was a learning
experience in itself. I knew only a few key phrases in Italian, and finding my
way to the train station and asking for directions was a lot harder than I initially
thought it would be. Carrying close to 80 pounds of luggage while struggling to
translate directions and understand train schedules was stressful. To make
matters worse, no one had informed me that single-file lines and common
courtesy were not all the rage in Italy, and that no one will ever feel sorry
for you if you fall down an escalator in a busy train station.

For the first time in a long while, I honestly felt
incredibly humbled. I knew that I shouldn’t have expected to immediately plunge
into a completely different world to be easy — but even with my attempts at
mental preparation and my trusty Italian phrasebook in hand, coming out of my
little college utopia to immerse myself in the Italian culture was a
much-needed reality check.

As I stepped outside Fiumicino airport into the humid Roman
air, I had a number of harsh realizations: No one around me understood English,
or my sad attempts at Italian. Not everyone in Europe was in love with my
profoundly American accent or impressed with my Jansport backpack and Chuck
Taylors. As a matter of fact, many Italians were just as irritated (if not more
so) by my cultural ignorance as Americans are with foreigners who speak poor
English and mock our love for ice cubes and big cars.

In a way, it was refreshing to be seen as an ignorant
foreigner. I had become so accustomed to being in control of everything back at
UCSD, and priding myself on my academic achievements, Guardian articles and my
dear posse of friends — but none of those things mattered in Italy. What did
matter were my abilities to adapt to Italian culture and my efforts to
integrate myself into the country’s rich customs and traditions. This process
was quite a challenge for me, but in the end, my efforts paid off and I was
generously rewarded with a deeper look into the society, politics and the way
of life in this beautiful country. If I hadn’t been able to put my slightly
stubborn, slightly haughty, American-college-student ways aside, I’m certain
that my experience in Europe would not have had such a profound affect on my
life and I probably wouldn’t have learned so much about myself and the world
around me.

Experiencing life in Europe and seeing the United States and
American college students from an outsider’s perspective was an eye opener
that can never be experienced within the
protective shield of university life. It gave me a genuine idea of culture,
world issues and lifestyle, and really changed my perspective on the world,
which I thought I had already known so well.

So I challenge the rest of you know-it-all college kids to
break out of your safe havens and try seeing yourselves from someone else’s
perspective instead of from your own glorified points of view. If this means
studying abroad, traveling or simply seizing opportunities to try things that
you normally wouldn’t do, so be it.

One thing is for sure, if we stop kidding ourselves and
putting on our pretentious-college-student shows, we can experience situations
that will help us learn much more about ourselves and our world than any novel,
news program or psychology class could ever hope to teach us.

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