I’ve spent a good part of my day on social media–answering questions from incoming students, chatting with former students, and trying to figure out how Google Hangouts works. There’s a push for an increased presence on social media–Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. We have a Facebook group for our students where they can meet each other before they arrive. We use Skype, WhatsApp, and Google to video chat. And, of course, once the students arrive they stay in touch with family and friends back home through social media. They can share pictures and talk free of charge using various apps.
It’s a world of difference from when I left home after high school and spent the summer in Germany. I think I only talked to my parents twice the whole time and I never spoke with any friends. It was too expensive to call home. We wrote some letters, but that was it. It makes me wonder what the difference in the experience is.
Modern technology and social media make it so easy to stay in touch if you want to (and even if you don’t), but it has its drawbacks, too. How much do students (or travelers in general) miss out on today because they spend so much time talking with family and friends back home? Does it help with homesickness or does it make it worse? Are they too busy taking pictures so that they can post and share them, rather than just enjoying the moment? I don’t really know the answer, but I suspect for many it is yes, they are cheating themselves out of the full experience of living and traveling abroad. It’s much easier to hide behind your cellphone or laptop than to engage with the world and people around you. As a shy and extremely introverted person, I completely understand the compulsion to do so. It can be scary to put yourself out there, especially when it requires you to speak to people in a different language. I can remember many awkward and frustrating moments trying to communicate with Eike’s friends.
I suspect that if I had had a cellphone and wifi back then, I would have spent far too much time sharing my experience with everyone back home rather than living it. I would have missed out on a lot and most likely regretted spending so much time doing what I could have just as easily done if I had stayed back home. So for those of you abroad or getting ready to go abroad, disengage from the social media long enough to engage with the world around you! Throw caution to the wind and put yourself out there!
Who knew there were palm trees in Switzerland?