In today’s social media driven world it isn’t difficult to get distracted for long periods of time by our screens.
We vow to only check if we got a new message and before we know it three hours have already gone by. For students studying abroad the buzzing and glowing siren’s call of our phones and computers tends to grow stronger after the initial novelty of being in another country starts to wear off. Our thoughts start drifting back towards friends, family and the everyday happenings of back home. Sometimes this happens because we are homesick, bored, or just plain tired out by all the new stimuli and attempts to adapt and assimilate into our new environment. We just crave a sense of familiarity.
Having social media and technology while being abroad isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Rather in many ways it can be useful in helping students to find inspiration, keep track of/ document their experiences, find directions, do homework, research places to explore and new foods to try, etc. It also allows one to stay connected to their friends and families. However, it does become a problem when a student spends all their time focused on social media (getting fomo), taking the perfect picture to document each and every little thing, talking to friends and family and or watching Netflix.
Moderation is key as such it is important to make a practice of setting social media time limits and or of using a program that blocks your social media access during certain times of the day.
After all, you didn’t travel hundreds of miles to a foreign country just to do the same things that you would back home. It is important to be present in the moment and to take full advantage of the study abroad experience.
While I was studying abroad in Madrid Spain, I had the misfortune of having my phone pickpocketed. I had no other option than to buy myself a cheap lo- tech phone with a very basic pay as you go plan which didn’t include many gigs of internet. Although upsetting at the time, getting my phone pickpocketed may have been one of the best things to happen to me. Since the phone was so basic with such limited social media functions and the sight of it was a constant reminder of my carelessness, I lost the need to use and or look at my phone as often. For the first time I felt that I was off the grid and it dawned on me how much time I spent on my phone and how much I had relied on it.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said for some of my fellow expat friends that I had made who were also living in my residencia.
I am naturally one of those people who gets restless when they stay inside for too long and I enjoy company.
As such whenever I had free time, I would go knock on my friends’ doors to ask if they wanted to join me in going to an event, exploring the city, or even just to go visit our neighborhood coffeeshop. I had one friend who every time without fail would be in his room watching Netflix or surfing the web. He only ever left his room to go to class and or program led outings! Every time I knocked on his door I would either have to physically drag him out of the room and or find different ways to guilt ….oops! I meant convince him to join me.
Almost on the opposite side of the spectrum personality wise, I had another friend who would always be down to join me no matter what. However, she was really into the influencer culture and instead of living in the moment it was as if she viewed the world through her I-phones camera lens. This girl’s pictures were amazing! She also had a lot of followers, but what her followers didn’t see was all the work that she put into manipulating “the moment” outside of the frame. I will never forget how one day she invited me to go to the local coffee shop with her. She ordered the specialty coffee, took a few pictures and promptly dumped the whole thing in a nearby garbage. It turns out that she disliked coffee and that it was just “all for the gram.”
While abroad, we sometimes tend to forget how privileged we are to have the opportunity to study abroad and to travel to another country at all.
We tend to carry and or retreat into the safety of the “home grown bubble of our Western life styles” (A. Ogden) habits and norms. It is our responsibility to make the most of our time, to search out new experiences and to be present in the moment not glued to a screen.
Looking back, I sometimes wish that I had a better camera or made the time to blog extensively about my experiences, but I have no regrets because the time I could have been typing and documenting everything on my computer and or phone I was usually off exploring, making new friends and memories.
SOURCE: Ogden, A. (2008) “The View from the Veranda: Understanding Today’s Colonial Student.” Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad