When I was with the study abroad program I was working for (because at this point lets not name names?), there were way too many times that I wanted to say things, and was told I wasn’t allowed to say them. There were a lot of rules that were only based on the fear of lawsuits, or just that we had to do things “how they were done in the US” because……I literally have no idea.
I feel like a lot of American study abroad students are being thrown into the kiddie pool at summer camp, and right before that moment that they walked up to that pool, they’re outfitted with swimmies and goggles and floaties and made sure they haven’t eaten the entire day before they touch the water. They’re sat in dry rooms dressed in warm clothing and shown pictures of pools and how to maneuver through them and what the “norm” is for those types of situations, and they all say they’re ready and they pick out the most beautiful bathing suits and tell all their friends that they’re going swimming. Then the day comes and the teachers lead the students to the edge of the pool and they start layering on the sunscreen so they don’t burn and the water shoes so they don’t slip and the goggles so they don’t get water in their eyes, and the floaties and the boogie boards and soon they’re all splashing hysterically on the surface of the water, thinking they’re swimming. Some get nervous when their feet don’t touch. Some can’t turn themselves upright and start to panic face-down in the water. If they panic, the teachers are on the side of the pool, yelling at them to just stand up in the in the kiddie pool – to not worry, they’ll handle it. Their feet hit the bottom of the two-foot-deep water, and they’re safe. Then their parents sue because no one told their kids early enough that all they had to do was stand up.
If I had a study abroad program, I would give these children swimming lessons years in advance instead of attaching plastic bags of air into them to keep them afloat. I would prepare them for this wet world that is so foreign to them – teach them to like the feel of the water on their skin, show them how to open their eyes underneath the surface in the kiddie pool and view a whole new world, make them unafraid of the depths that the other kids in the kiddie pool don’t even get to see through their fogged up goggles by talking to them, explaining to them, showing them in any other way I could. I would teach them to hold their breath for longer and longer, how to push and pull the water to move through it like a fish, how to float without fear.
And then when the time came, I’d take them to the edge of the pool, strip them of everything but their own beautiful selves, let their eyes see it all without the rose-colored goggles, and pop all of the safety swimmies. I’d take each one and toss them into the pool. I wouldn’t be afraid, and neither would they because they are in control, and they are confident, and they knew what was coming, and how different the world would be. Then, I would teach them how to dive down into the murky depths, feel the compression in their lungs, feel the strength of being somewhere so foreign, then push off the deepest bottom and feel the excitement as they rose to the surface with a flourish of bubbles.
I would still be waiting at the surface, of course. I miss waiting. I miss talking to those that are afraid to let go of their swimmies, and then finally seeing them do so. The difference is, I’m not the lifeguard. They are – and we all should be.
Again, instead, I think most are still hanging in the shallow end around this city, and there are way too many teachers and lifeguards, and I just wish I had another pool to teach my lessons in. There are too many floaties in this one.