9/11 Anniversary: Two U.S. Teens Come of Age in a Decade of Tumult

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Later, at Stanford University, working on a project with Yale University on civilian casualties in Afghanistan, she began to see "the dirty side of nation building," she said.

And as President Bush banned photos of coffins returning from two wars, Szybala wondered whether Americans had not been "shielded" from those images, would the war have been "more real?"

In 2005, Szybala would encounter terrorism first hand. While backpacking for two months in Southeast Asia, an Islamic extremist group set off a bomb a block away from where she was staying in Indonesia.

But it was a catastrophic tsunami that hit Thailand that propelled her to act. Szybala joined a local relief group and worked for three months. She was there when she saw another natural disaster unfold at home: Hurricane Katrina.

Again, just this year, Szybala witnessed history. She said she was studying Arabic in Syria during April's political uprising, "right up until the day they called out the tanks."

"Ours is the first generation to grow up in a globalized world with open communications," Szybala said. "I grew up with chat rooms and AIM [AOL Instant Messenger]. But I Skyped globally with my friends in Syria. Every day, we had connectedness."

Today, with an economy in shambles, Szybala lives at home, sending out resumes, hoping to work for a think tank, or a consulting firm or possibly a nonprofit that does humanitarian work.

"I care about people suffering," she said. "I always felt very lucky to travel in the developing world. Our parents worked hard to give us access to education. If I could spend my life helping others, I don't have the same opportunities, but it would be a great way to spend a life."

"People in my generation feel the same way," she said.

Both Szybala and Rudder acknowledge the world has changed in a decade since the national tragedy.

"Everything has changed: civilian life, airport security, the stuff that's thrown at you on TV, terrorists in the Middle East," Rudder said. "So much has happened that when what happened in Norway [the shooting of 80 children at a camp], everyone assumed he was an Arab terrorist."

Editor's Note: Szybala just took a job with Chemonics, an international development consulting company that "helps governments, businesses, civil society groups, and communities promote meaningful change so people can live healthier, more productive, and more independent lives."

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