Wednesday, October 05, 2011

American Kids Living Dangerously Abroad

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

I don't know about you, but I admit I've been riveted by Amanda Knox. I didn't necessarily feel that she was an innocent wrongly accused or a guilty murderer who got what she deserved, I was just drawn into her horrific experience. And in some ways I could sympathize. I was an exchange student in college. I did things in Spain in the name of freedom and experimentation that I would never do in the States. I fell in love with dangerous European men (not el esposo of course) and I probably made decisions that in retrospect could have gotten me into a lot of trouble. A lot of trouble. No, I never killed anyone or even broke any laws, but still, my 'year of living dangerously,' could have turned out with a far more sinister outcome. So, maybe Amanda Knox was in Italy and was feeling free to experiment, to live dangerously, to abandon caution and it somehow backfired on her. I don't know, but I can imagine several scenarios.

But now, as a mother, I look at Amanda Knox, accused of murder, and spending four years in jail and I look at those poor American hikers, accused of spying in Iran, who spent two years in an Iranian prison and I cringe at the thought that one day my children will want to go abroad and experience a different way of life. Suddenly, as a parent, I see the inherent risks of my children wanting the chance to 'live dangerously' in another country, in another language. How, I wonder, do parents these days let their children go?

I asked my uncle this question before he passed, as he allowed his two young teens to travel to Germany when they were in high school on an exchange program. He told me he had simply raised his children right and that he trusted them. I rolled my eyes at that answer and decided he was just too lenient. But then I looked back on my own childhood. My parents sent me/allowed me to be an exchange student in Morocco when I was 17 years old. My first experience abroad and I was on a plane to Africa. There was no internet back then and letters took at least 10 days to arrive. That trip was life changing for me. (By the way, the program I went on, AFS, still exists today and is wonderful.)  I experienced myself and the world in a totally different way. I made lifelong friends and became part of a new family. I also learned how to speak a little bit of Arabic and French which I still remember and use on occasion today.

And then of course, I did go to Spain in college. I was a little more reckless, but look what I got out of the experience. A husband, a career and the fodder for my memoir, Kinky Gazpacho. Not bad for a year abroad.

So, at the end of the day, I'm sure I will be scared to death when my kids inevitably ask to go abroad alone. I'll probably try to secretly insert a GPS monitor under their skin or in a back tooth to keep track of them, but I'll let them go. Despite what happened to Amanda Knox and the hikers in Iran, I will keep the faith that I raised my kids right and I will trust them to 'live dangerously' ... but with caution. Is that too much to ask?

What do you think dear readers? Will you let your kids go abroad with no reservations? At what age? What will you do to prepare them?

I'm so listening.



nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

I think the hikers' situation and Amanda's are very different.

The border was unmarked and it's highly unlikely the hikers were CIA spies.

Amanda was too immature to study abroad. I am perplexed that someone could find their roommate butchered, be called in for questioning by the cops, and yet never realize they were suspect. What?!

If I had a child they would be black or bi-racial and there's no way they would be so la-di-da about anything having to do with police officers, crime, etc. etc.

Cyretha said...

I would like to make three points:
1)For every Amanda Knox and hikers' stories there have been millions of kids who have gone abroad at a young age and returned home without any problems. I think these two situations should just serve as reminders that things can happen. They are not the norm, but the exception.
2) Your uncle was right. If you raise kids correctly, they will know how to handle situations when you (parents) are not around.
3) I agree with NYC/Caribean's comments.

If we let the media place unnecessary anxiety on us, we as a people (culture) will not continue to develop and flourish.

LT said...

Very good points all around. And I had the same thoughts about my colored children abroad. I think I fear for them extra for that reason.

Thanks for the positive perspective. I'm with you.

Quiskaeya said...

I don't see the Amanda Knox and the hikers' situation as being congruent. The hikers seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (based on media accounts).

Amanda Knox however, seemed to be a classic case of irresponsible, reckless, American living abroad with no regard for the law because of entitlement. Being from another country, I grew accustomed to seeing the "American entitlement" attitude by US expats that says, "I can do as I please in your country regardless of your laws, because I'm AMERICAN."

I can understand wanting to spread one's wings as a young person. I can even understand wanting to blow a little caution to the wind once out from under Mommy & Daddy's watchful eye. But seriously, I can't wrap my head around the level of immaturity, disregard for the law, and blatant arrogance that she displaced to local authority.

I could never send my children to another country with such an attitude. They will have a healthy respect for the culture and way of life of the people of that country. And yes, your uncle was correct: Raise your kids right. I'm not sure Amanda Knox's parents fully prepared her, but she knows now. Hopefully, she won't forget it if she ever goes abroad.

Anonymous said...

You know what i think honey since Morocco, sheep, John Irving and you (not necessarily in that order!) were such enduringly important experiences in my life. I am amazed at what my mother allowed/ trusted me to do and I pray I'll have the same strength to let my girls go out in the world and do the same. I think I will but I'm not so sure about their dad...Lucy