Exiled! To a Student Traveler’s Dream Location!

August 26, 2008

ExiledOh MTV, how you spice up our lives and drive us crazy with tales of losers, princesses, and princesses who don’t realize what losers they are.

Mostly, I think MTV does a good job of encouraging young people to get involved in the world around them. They’ve run some excellent election coverage in the past, interviewed candidates and talked about issues in a way that shows young people how their votes count and the impact they can have. They’ve also been vocal about environmental issues, education, and safe sex.

Then there’s “My Super Sweet 16”. Ugly from top to bottom, whiny inside and out, the show demonstrates everything that makes people around the world hate Americans. Not in a political way, just in a culturally vacant, greedy, self-righteous, indignant way. I cringe at the waste and expense and arrogance that useless people go to just to celebrate themselves, when they’ve never done anything worth celebrating.

However, if there’s one thing that people all over the world love to watch, it’s someone who is pompous and selfish being dragged off the pedestal they had custom made and bedazzled. So now MTV is giving their party girls and boys the comeuppance we all knew they deserved… which also happens to be the holiday of my dreams.

In “Exiled”, MTV’s former Super Snotty 16s are sent to live in remote parts of Thailand, Kenya, Peru, and other places that most of us would have to save up lots of cash and vacation time to get to. They are placed with locals (no tour buses or hostels for these kids), given insight to local culture, and immersed in the daily tasks and traditions of their hosts.

Isn’t this the kind of experience most travelers would kill for? It’s not like these teens are being sent to a really bad part of Chicago or L.A. They aren’t being asked to tutor death row inmates or work 12-hour days with a dry cleaner in Chinatown. They’re being sent to gorgeous locations, given privileges and adventures that would take other travelers weeks to arrange, and they’re crying about it. Why? Because they won’t have any cell phone reception, and there isn’t a mall or nail salon anywhere. Daddy, come get me!

To MTV’s credit, this is more than just a show where people have to eat bugs and make fools of themselves. There are lessons to be learned, a bigger world to understand. MTV even has a whole “Think” campaign that provides more detailed information about the issues these unwilling travelers discover, like the importance of clean drinking water in Africa.

And I suppose the premise that some people have to be told that travel is good for them isn’t so far-fetched. I remember the first People to People Student Ambassador trip I did in high school, where somewhere between Geneva and Paris one of the girls on the trip decided that she was sick of this foreign stuff, she couldn’t possibly be away from her boyfriend for another 10 whole days, and since the whole thing was her parents’ dumb idea, she called and harassed them until they agreed she could fly home early.

Meanwhile, many of the kids on the trip had spent months working part-time jobs, holding fundraisers, washing neighborhood cars and dogs and mowing lawns to be able to afford the experience. They appreciated every moment of it, probably more than those whose parents just cut a check.

Is travel better when you want it enough to work for it, or can you unexpectedly, spontaneously develop an appreciation for it? I don’t know. I’ll have to watch a few more episodes to decide.

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