Studying abroad feels like being on The Real World because you do both when you’re twenty-something and looking for a Cultural Experience. If you study abroad in Europe your student apartment might come completely furnished with IKEA products, just like The Real World house. Upon arriving you might want to check your headboard for cameras.
It’s not a coincidence your study abroad roommates uncannily resemble cast members from The Real World. According to Chuck Klosterman’s collection of pop culture essays Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, “the producers of The Real World weren’t sampling real world youth America—they were unintentionally creating it.” The Christian. The bisexual. The bitch. Klotserman argues youths post-The Real World see themselves and each other as one of the seven strangers; it made them identify as one of these one-dimensional archetypes in order to relate to the show.
If anyone’s in a long distance relationship while studying abroad you don’t expect it to last. The Real World teaches us to believe people who move far away, with strangers, are obviously unhappy in their relationships and don’t actually intend to make it work overseas. Cheating? A dramatic break up over the phone? You’ve learned to expect both.
At the expense of intense cultural experiences expected to occur outside the classroom, study abroad academic course loads seem far more lenient than back home. Sound familiar? The Real World cast members must maintain a bullshit job to stay in their house. Does anyone ever get fired even when they do terrible work? No. Does everyone pass study abroad classes after putting in close to no effort? Yes. Enough said.
Studying abroad means over priced cell phone plans, ten European television stations, and unaffordable Internet. Your study abroad technological deprivation sounds a lot like the one landline, one computer, no TV restrictions on The Real World. Minimal responsibility and limited technology creates a breeding ground for non-productivity (laying in bed all day, gossiping around the kitchen table and excessive partying). This environment inevitably leads to the kind of childish drama you’ve never seen up until this point of your undergraduate education and will probably never see for the rest of it.
When your roommate asks the director of your study abroad program if she’ll get kicked out of her apartment for punching another roommate in the face, you can blame MTV. Would she ask this question without the standards set by The Real World‘s “physically threaten your roommate get sent home rule”? Probably not.
Blurred local faces pick fights on every season of The Real World. It’s worse when those faces are crystal clear. If you study abroad in an area dominated by American students, chances are the locals won’t want to be your BFF. They tease you in the streets and yell “oh my God!” at you from a distance. When you travel in loud packs, take over their bars and want to have a foreign fling but leave a month later, can you blame them?
Did MTV get something right and accurately show how twenty-somethings act while living with strangers in an unfamiliar place? Or did The Real World only seem right after youth perpetuated this behavior? Probably a little bit of both.