Reflections from Simon Goldberg, International Programs Lead Coordinator.
It is difficult to believe that CIEE at Brandeis is already over. Two incredible weeks of cultural exchange and English learning. Two weeks of new friendships and infectious laughter. Two weeks of deep conversations and reflection on what connects us, human beings from completely different backgrounds who harbor and promote such incongruous worldviews.
The barriers were there at the outset. When they arrived, the participants were clearly, understandably, inclined to interact only with those who shared their language and nationality. It’s daunting, isn’t it, stepping off of a plane in a new country, halfway through your teenage years? Discovering and at the same time contorting to a new lifestyle, a new set of expectations? And to some extent–let’s be honest–doing this alone. But the participants’ initial apprehension about less familiar people gave way to a growing self-confidence in their ability to engage with the sheer diversity of the group; as that sort of interaction could only take place in English, the classes in which they were enrolled provided an invaluable platform on which to speak and wrestle with the language, and to come out stronger.
And so did our programs. Color War, for instance, had them running and jumping and joining together in common, competitive purpose. It allowed them to forget about grammar and their projects and their thoughts of home and their fears of the coming year and to look to each other’s passion and athletic ability for the fleeting inspiration they so desired. It was there, lurking, abundant, and once it was tapped, everything changed. One evening at 10pm, after we returned from an outing together, the common area outside of the participants’ dormitories was buzzing with excitement. A frisbee was seen cutting back through the air and back. Whereas it was previously quiet at the conclusion of a day’s activities, that night, it was clear, something had changed. The floodgates of closeness had opened. Everyone was outside, converging around music blasting from the speaker dock–one special speaker dock most probably unaware of the magic it was producing for these teens, who all of a sudden looked like a family.
I think the creation of a comfortable, open space in which the teens could feel they were not judged was one of the great successes of our time together.
When all was said and done it turned out the CIEE participants bonded more than we ever thought they would. In their scrapbooks, which they spent Saturday morning putting together, they wrote moving messages to one another, wishing success ahead, reminiscing about times shared. I peeked over and saw: “You are my friend forever.” Another read: “Don’t forget me.”
It’s always like that when you go on a ride together that doesn’t stop until suddenly it does. Two weeks that are all the things I listed above; two weeks that also feel like two years, but when the dust settled, ended all too soon. If the participants can translate the audacity and willpower they displayed at Brandeis to their time here in America, the sky is limit. Because we felt this, we pushed them during our last night together to learn the words of the great Mark Twain, who once said: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Until we meet again.