Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"Oh, Ukraine? THAT'S interesting . . ." : On what not to stay to abroad teachers/students

My students seem to like Americans, but they unanimously singled out a single American attribute they hate.
"When I greet Americans, they always say 'hello, how are you?'," said a 2nd year english student of mine. "And then they just walk away without waiting for an answer. If you didn't want to know, why did you ask?"
Ouch, I thought. I wanted to object with a reason, but he was right. How superficial. It seems I get a lot of superficiality from Americans about world issues these days, in fact, about anything not directly related to themselves. 
My roommate and I have a running joke about Americans we talk to when we come back from traveling and living abroad in Ukraine. We might be at a party, a family get-together or some sort of social function, but inevitably people ask: "What are you doing these days?" 
Depending on who you're talking to, they may be positive and supportive or rather skeptical and cynical of your accomplishments and dreams. Or, if they are in the group I'm singling out, they're really not that interested in other people.
"Well, I'm teaching/studying abroad, in Such and Such country overseas," you might say.
"So, how's that stuff working out for you, y'know, over there?" says the ignoramus. 
"It's great . . . . I really like these people and this country, I've learned a-" 
"Well, that's interesting. You have fun with that," as they gulp the last of their beer and duck out of a potentially boring conversation.
I don't mean to pick on my fellow Americans. In fact, I've never felt prouder to be an American than I do now. However, we have earned a very deserving reputation around the rest of the world as having great influence, but little to no awareness. 
I applaud projects like National Geographic Glimpse and STA travel for their efforts to expose Americans to more cultures and the rest of the world. I don't expect Americans to know where Ukraine is or to even know most countries in Europe. We just don't interact with them enough to make it necessary. 
It's not the lack of knowledge that concerns me, it's the unwillingness. A fool is someone who acts stupidly and doesn't mind. Ignorance doesn't bother me, what bugs me is willing ignorance.
It drives me crazy when people know they could learn more but choose not to because it impinges on their lifestyle. That's a fool. 
So when someone comes back from a potentially enlightening experience in their life, either serving our country abroad as a soldier, from working in a humbling environment with the poor and sick, or from a paradigm-shifting travel experience, don't say "well, we just don't know how lucky we have it," and change the subject. Ask them about how they feel. Take an interest in someone else's life and what they are doing. They could be struggling with the greatest lessons and experiences of their  waking lives. 
Who knows? Both of you might learn something.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

My Brothers

Above, top to bottom: from left to right, starting with the bald gentleman, Gerry Wiltfang, Brett McCaw, myself, Mike Banwell(back to camera), Andy May, Dave Anderson and John Rudzinski at Casa Rudzinski for the annual Guys' Get-together on January 2nd in Rockford, Illinois; from left to right, John Rudzinski, Jim McCaw, Gerry Wiltfang, Mike Banwell, and Andy May yell a greeting to Dave Anderson as he arrives late to the dinner of venison, spaghetti, pierogis, borscht, beer and other manly foods; Ross Laloggia and Bud May watch the bonfire burn embers into the night sky as John Rudzinski enjoys a cigar while sitting on cardboard boxes; Tim Malone and Andy May listen to Brett McCaw tell a story; and the fearless Tim Malone kicks a cardboard box into the fire(don't try this at home).

I once described friendship like the rings on a tree: each interior ring is smaller and contains less people, and the exterior rings, being the broadest, are also the most easily shed. That harsh reality is usually realized when you leave a community, like graduating from college or leaving a job.
This is my innermost ring. The men in these photos are probably the closest to brothers that I have, and they know me well. We first bonded at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico while hiking for two weeks on a high adventure trip. Every year, we either take another trip or have some sort of get-together at one of our houses, and every year we go stronger. 
I was thrilled to have them over the night before I left for Los Angeles, and the food was so rich I didn't have to eat for a day. To the men of Troop 23, the Phil Group, and my closest friends, you're the best friends a man can ask for and I am blessed to have you. Thank you.

Monday, January 5, 2009

World's Largest Ketchup Bottle

Above, from top to bottom: The Rudzinski Children with the World's Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville, IL, just outside of St. Louis. In order of appearance: "hey Mike, lick the ketchup bottle, Lick it like you WANT IT!" said Carrie as I burst out laughing; Julie, 20, holds the bottle in her hands, she's currently at Suffolk University in Boston for art; and the reason for the trip, Carrie, soon to be 22, is going to finish her final semester in college at Emerson College in Los Angeles.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Blog Break is over, I'm back and postin'

Apologies to all faithful readers who have been looking for posts from me since I've returned stateside; I have been taking a rather prolonged, unannounced break from rudzfromeurope. I'm currently in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, driving across the United States with my two sisters as we take Carrie to college in Los Angeles. She's a film major and will be spending her last semester in L.A. Here's her blog:

Photos to come tonight, my siblings won't let me spend the time! We're shooting for Albuquerque tonight, and Phoenix tomorrow evening. I'll keep live blogging as we go. More to come tonight!