08/20/2015, Blog by Jeremy Lawson, Computer Science and Society, Ethics, and Human Behavior, CHID Georgia Romania: Conflicting Currents – Romania and Georgia in a Turbulent Black Sea
The Black Sea definitely wasn’t the first place I thought I’d be visiting when I decided years ago that I wanted to study abroad. New Zealand, maybe. But somehow, the Romania and Georgia program that I will be leaving for in a few days caught my interest in its unique focus on cross-cultural study and politics. Sure, there may be some similar programs out there, but who can say they went to Tbilisi in college? Besides, no place I can think of has as many historical cultural influences as the Black Sea region, from Greek to Persian to Dacian to Ottoman to communist, and many more. The architecture and culture are bound to be quite interesting.
I think a lot of people think study abroad is too expensive or time-consuming. It isn’t. It’s quite often cheaper than traveling as a tourist, and I have found the process to be relatively straight-forward (if almost a year long). If it’s something you want to do, just work towards it early enough and the opportunity is there. Apply to a few scholarships, and you’re set! I knew I wanted to spend my life traveling, the hardest choice was where to start. But I did have my reasons for choosing such an unconventional program.
I’m excited to see how a specific understanding of the recent (and long term) prominent local issues of the region can help my understanding of general issues like nationalism and diversity. I spend a lot of my time at home studying current events and dreaming up solutions; but I can’t imagine that seeing only one country could provide all the answers. Even Western Europe is potentially too similar, so I decided to reach a little further culturally.
I haven’t been further outside the US than Vancouver Island, and I’ve been looking forward to culture shock essentially my whole life. I’ve always wanted to see what else is out there, what other people see, and what we can learn from them. Romania and Georgia, I think those definitely fit the “different” bill. I’m incredibly excited to meet the local professionals, politicians, and artists we’ll get to hear from.
I’m definitely more excited than nervous, though I can’t say I can even imagine what landing in Bucharest is going to be like. It’s not that I’m not even a little nervous, but I guess I’ve been mentally prepared for this for so long, and am fairly good at dealing with changing situations. While I’m guessing that helps with travel, program teachers tend to have everything set up so that even the most nervous of travelers would be okay. That said, potentially having to get to the hotel on our own as soon as we land feels a little like the Amazing Race. I love it.
The one thing I am nervous about is the language. If there’s anything I wish I’d done, it’s spend the months before my trip really getting to know the local languages (as much as can be done in a few months). Because of excuses such as “full time job” and “other projects”, I’ve had to do most of my studying in a few weeks, including learning an entirely new alphabet. The saving grace is the class some of us took in the spring, which has given me a decent foundation, and it sounds like a lot of Romanians speak English. Still, I’m not even sure I could order a sandwich, and am hoping that language learning happens as easily (well, that’s a relative word) as people say it does when thrown into it.
In the end, I don’t really know what to expect. I probably won’t be able to sleep the night before my flight! I’m hoping to open my mind to other ideas and beliefs out there, through more than just tourist attractions. Travel isn’t just about seeing, it’s about getting to know people, and seeing your own home from an outside perspective. I’m sure that I will come home an entirely different person. I can’t say for certain, but I think a lot of Americans don’t get “out” enough, and there’s a lot we could learn politically from the rest of the world. Even if it’s what not to do. I’m hoping for some interesting insights into different ideas of what “development” is, both socially and technologically, and into what it may take for equality to be achieved worldwide, which also depends on other definitions of the word.
Traveling through university programs is not only cheaper, but it’s shaping up to provide a much more in depth experience than regular tourism!