Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Too Cool for School? Ya, Try Again

It's nearing the end of the fall travel season for me, and I've been thinking a lot about kids.

Whoa, what? Back up, hold the phone….what does that even mean?

Let me give you some context as an appetizer: I've always believed that there are so many amazing things to be learned from kids, particularly those entering that stage of becoming a teenager. 

And I'm not just referring to the latest lingo or acronym--despite how ridiculously addictive I find "YOLO." What I'm referring to surpasses 'nbd' 'ttyl' or any other urban dictionary addition I've overlooked.

Let's be honest with ourselves - we all are intimately familiar with the awkward transition from 'child' to 'teenager.' (Thank you, mom, for refusing to let me paint my bedroom walls that neon lime green I was like, sooooo in "love" with. No, really...Thank you.) 

Terrible taste in colors aside, the changing idea of 'self' that accompanies becoming a teenager is amazing. It's a time of learning about who you are, making mistakes you'll laugh at (hopefully) years later, and opening your eyes to the world around you.

During one of my recent travels, I had the chance to chat with a group of young teens in middle school about study abroad and international education opportunities, and it blew my mind in more ways than one. See where I'm going with this thinking about kids thought? Awesome. Enough with the appetizer. Let's dig into this entree.

YOLO'ing Like the Best of 'Em  

Did someone say YOLO?
To say I was nervous about presenting to middle schoolers is an understatement. Most of the presentations I tend to give in my line of work are to college students who already have a basic understanding of what it means to study abroad. At the very least, they've heard the phrases 'elective credit' and 'semester-long program.' Not necessarily the case when it comes to middle school kids. I'm also the last person to be considered a "cool kid" (lime green, remember?) and I was terrified at saying the wrong thing or seeming like I couldn't relate to them. This was something I had volunteered to do for a friend while I was in town, and the last thing I wanted to do was screw it up.

I suppose I needn't have worried so much, as my friend gave me a piece of advice that still resonates with me: talk to them like you would anyone else. Treat them like adults and they'll respect what you have to say.

He couldn't have been more right. No suprise really, as he is an unbelievable teacher whose passion for teaching is rivaled only by his zest for life. As soon as I stood up in front of these kids -- many of whom come from less privileged backgrounds and financial circumstances -- it didn't take long to notice that most of the questions they asked were the exact same as those I often get from students on a university campus:
"How can I apply for financial aid?"

"What are popular destinations to study abroad? How long can I go for?"

"Can you get credit for the classes you take?"
I loved every moment of it. Every laugh, every smile, every "I'm way cooler than you, and I'm only 14" interaction reminded me how lucky I am to work in international education. It also reminded me that it often doesn't matter how old someone is, how "wise of the world" they may or may not be, or even what walk of life they may come from in order to possess a desire to see the world. I should know - I had the same thirst for adventure before I was old enough to know how to apply it to my future. Why shouldn't these kids?


Lesson Learned, Class Dismissed

So what to take away from this? Besides the fact, of course, that all it takes is a group of a middle-schoolers to make you want to stand up and cheer for their futures? I guess that's really up to you. I think we often look to teenagers and our own time spent at that age with a cynical "been there, done that" attitude - I'm sure I've been guilty of it with my own younger sisters - and experiences like this remind me why it's important to take a step back and put the bigger picture in perspective; that picture being that we can learn just as much from young, developing minds, as those minds look to us for guidance. Now that's a give and take relationship if I've ever seen one :)

As a bit of dessert to this fine dining experience, I've included a video below that I was going to show to the kids during my presentation (due to technical difficulties, this didn't happen). It's about the ways that study abroad will "ruin" your life (based on another presentation I gave for GoAbroad) and offers a glimpse at some of the ways international education can actually change your life for the better. This is more of a fun video, so do keep that in mind in watching- a girl's got to at least try and keep teenage students entertained.

And if there is anything I've learned from this fall season, it's that it isn't just the experiences you have while traveling that change your life - it's the people you meet along the way. Young, old, wise, naive, people are a constant reminder that you never stop learning and you're never too cool for school. How's that for a feeling of YOLO? ;)