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Gunboat Diplomacy: Study Abroad Soft Launches About as Soft as Opening of Japan by US Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry

Zinneke on Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0 with edits

If you didn’t know that Penn offers study abroad opportunities in the likes of England, France, Tel Aviv, Hong Kong, and Queensland, fear not. Even if you narrowly avoided being automatically enrolled in the Penn Global listserv, as long as you don’t live under a rock, you are likely to be informed by your peng you in Shanghai (who has a VPN), amigo in in Barthelona, or amica in Florence that they are eating better than you, taking easier classes, drinking more legally, and becoming more well-traveled by the second. In fact, you are likely to receive study abroad announcements from your entire social network, whether you care or not, by way of Instagram stories, BeReals (do they have that in a third world place like London?), and of course, I would be remiss to exclude the study abroad (public) diaries that my compadres have created as homage to their voyäges. Whenever I see medieval architecture, manicured gardens, foreign McDonald’s (trust me guys, it is SO good everywhere BUT America. You HAVE to try it. I LITERALLY go here everyday) on one of my “follower’s” stories, I make sure to swipe up and say, “Love the soft launch girl hope you are having sooooo much fun in Europe. Send me lots of pics!!!”

But I must confess. I just don’t love the soft launches. I wholeheartedly support studying abroad. I emphatically endorse sharing one’s experience. Studying abroad is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity, much like turning seven at Disneyland. But soft launches aren’t even that soft. In fact, each time I see the oh so not recognizable Amalfi Coast, a discreet half image of Big Ben, or the completely unfamiliar Sydney Opera House, my mind fills with textbook figures of gouty white men in uniforms stepping out of armed ships and [ACTION REQUIRED] emails. 

What these acts of violence share with the seemingly innocent soft launch is feigned subtlety. It is no secret to anyone what Matty P hoped to gain as he brought out the big guns and a warm handshake. Nor is it any secret the intentions behind soft launches. Our siblings abroad want us to know what a great time they are having and we embrace it with arms. But let’s be transparent about this transaction. No more pretending that the average Penn student doesn’t know where you are nibbling on croissants and jam. We all know and lust for more overt messaging.