Alumni Advice: Don’t Let “Likes” Dominate Your Abroad Experience

Technology dominates our life. There’s no way to avoid it, but there is a way to manage it.  Technology can make studying abroad a lot easier. It allows you to easily connect with people at home and it makes navigating around a foreign city a lot easier. But technology, specifically social media, should not dictate your time abroad.

Because technology is everywhere it is easy to get sucked into, but it is important to not be totally dependent on it. It is tempting to spend days in your room watching Netflix or scroll constantly through your newsfeed, but shutting the computer and going out to explore is one of the best ways to learn about other cultures. Although you must make sure you are safe, going out and physically immersing yourself in the culture you are living in allows you to connect with that culture and learn. Studying abroad can be one of the best experiences of your life, but to create memories and experiences you have to go out and get them. Forcing yourself outside of your comfort zone and taking chances allows you to have experiences you never thought possible and create the memories that will last a lifetime.

Studying abroad is not a competition of who is having the best time or who can get the most likes on a photo. Each study abroad experience is different and personalized.

Students often feel they need to prove to their friends at home that they are having a great time abroad. They see other students studying abroad posting pictures of themselves on Facebook and Instagram that look like they’re having an amazing time, and they feel pressure to do the same. Studying abroad is not a competition of who is having the best time or who can get the most likes on a photo. Each study abroad experience is different and personalized. Doing things for others stops you from doing things for yourself. If you do things solely for the photo that it will produce, you are limiting your spontaneity. Putting down the phone and enjoying the moment without a screen in front of your face allows you to create memories that you will never forget. By always focusing on finding wifi or choosing which filter you are going to use, you can miss out on the spontaneous moments that will shape your abroad experience.

Living In The Moment

When I traveled to Barcelona on spring break, my friends and I went to a Barcelona FC game. While I was traveling to the game I found myself planning out the photo I wanted to Instagram before I even got to the stadium. Even though I loved soccer, I found social media controlling my actions at the game. I was so focused on the photo I was taking that I almost missed one of the best goals I had ever seen (that Messi scored, of course). Right then I put down my phone and took in my surroundings. No photo or video that I would take could capture the feeling of passion that I felt from the thousands of fans around me at the game. I realized I didn’t need to prove to anyone else that I was enjoying my time through a social media post as long as I enjoyed it.

There will be experiences while studying abroad that you will want to share with others on social media, which is fine, but there will also be moments for personal growth and exploration that happen when you are not continuously staring at your phone. You do not always have to document your experiences through photos. I kept a journal that I wrote in every night while I was traveling. In it I described my experiences, observations, and any funny moments that I wanted to remember. Taking photos to document your experiences is great but it is important to make sure you are not doing it because it will make a good Instagram picture that you will get a lot of likes on, or because you saw someone else post a similar photo on Facebook. Studying abroad helps students develop their independence and that starts with independence from social media. Your Snapchat story is only 24 hours, but the memories you make will last a lifetime. Put the phone down and enjoy.

Maggie Gibson is a Public Policies Studies major at Trinity College of Connecticut and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at University College London in the United Kingdom. 

Article by Maggie Gibson