Florence, Italy: the place that completely stole my heart and absolutely changed me forever. Studying abroad was hands down the best experience of my life. When else in your life are you going to be able to travel for such an extended period time, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the culture and experience these cities beyond a superficial tourist perspective. And let’s not forget while on this glorified vacation, you are also receiving school credit for those wine tasting classes and Italian-cuisine cooking classes. So while you’re going out partying every night and skipping class to travel every weekend, don’t forget to thank mom and dad for all of that very valuable “studying” you got done. But all jokes aside, I am really am so grateful to have been given this opportunity of studying abroad. And I am also appreciative of having multiple ways to look back and reminisce on my experiences. While documenting memories from trips once meant physical photo albums and hand written journals, we now have a much more digital way of capturing these moments. While studying abroad, most people document and share these special experiences via social media–they post pictures on Instagram and Facebook, they Snapchat quick snip bits and videos, they tweet about where they are travelling to and they blog about what they are doing and learning. Everything they see or do has a designated place on their social media pages. This has become so normalized in our society that it has inevitably become necessary and expected. Although tracking and sharing these memories is nice, I found the use of social media to be a major hindrance on the studying abroad experience.
Studying in Florence made me realize how much of an impact social media still seems to have on students and their time abroad. Here are a few of the pros and cons of social media that were blatantly obvious to me:
Communal platforms to document/share memories: As I previously mentioned, these social media platforms are a great way to document and share pictures and information from our travels. Other people genuinely enjoy seeing our adventures and we genuinely enjoy seeing their. It is nice to have a communal place to hold all of these memories. Another thing I definitely didn’t realize until it happened to me, is that your Facebook albums won’t crash when your computer does. Just recently my computer crashed and I lost everything on my laptop including all of my pictures from my time abroad. I was absolutely devastated and thought I would never get over it–until…my mom reminded me that all of my pictures were still saved to my Facebook account. I was so incredibly relieved. While Facebook may have its own issues and this doesn’t mean my pictures are safe forever, it was nice to have this communal space as a sense of back up.
Advice/Learning: There are so many social media accounts that are purposely aimed at offering advice and wisdom based on past experiences. There are accounts that exists where students who have previously studied abroad will share their experiences as well as tips on what they would do differently. I know that I personally used many of these sites to learn the best places to visit based on the cities that I was going to be travelling to. I wanted to know which tourist “monuments” were worth it and which ones were not. I wanted to know the special “off the beaten path” places that weren’t overly crowded with tourists and allowed me to further understand the culture. There are accounts that offer tips on how to pack, how to save money, where to go, when to go, the best places to eat, and just about everything else you could possibly think of.
Making $$$: Many people today use travelling/studying abroad almost as a way of free promotion. Their overwhelming use of these social media platforms during their adventures soon leads to amazing opportunities of either earning money or other forms of compensation. I know of a few different instances of people who began their expeditions as studying abroad, travelling after graduation, etc. and then it soon evolved into companies being so impressed with their influential social media presence in relation to these topics that they begin flying these people out for free. They are offered free travel, room and board, food and more so that they will document their trips and then share them to their vast audience on these social media sites.
Too much time spent on social media rather than experiencing the culture: One of my favorite things about studying abroad was the awesome feeling of not having a phone. I am not ashamed to admit that in the US, I will never be caught dead without my phone in my hand. I can’t even use the excuse of “Sorry I didn’t answer, I didn’t see your text” because I am on my phone 27/4, constantly refreshing my social media pages to stay updated on what my friends are up to. Being abroad, this was never a concern of mine. I liked going all day without calling, texting, and checking social media. However, seeing as how we are currently living in the 21st century and the concept of studying abroad is becoming more and more common, we started to see an increase in available Wi-Fi. I hate this part of being abroad. My friends and classmates began searching for restaurants and coffee shops based on which ones had free Wi-Fi so that they could check their phones. In my opinion, this was a major impact and definitely took away from the experience.
Too much of a competition: I know a lot about this one because I often got caught up in it myself. I mentioned in my last blog post, about Parents’ Weekend, that many student were competing with who could get the best pictures and this is even more true for study abroad students. Holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, touching the top of the Louvre, standing in a telephone booth in London, chugging bottles of vino during wine tastings in Tuscany.–you name it, I had the picture. But it is not the picture themselves that are the problem. The problem is the reason behind why we are taking them. We become more concerned with “likes” on social media than we do on capturing these very special moments to look back on years from now.
Experiencing things through your phone rather than living in the moment: One night in Florence, there was a fireworks show down near the Ponte Vecchio. In the middle of the show, I realized I had been watching the entire fireworks display through the screen of my iPhone. I hadn’t even looked up to catch a brief glimpse of the action in the sky. I realized then how imperative it was to ACTUALLY witness these moments through my very own two eyes. Many of my friends did not realize why this began to bother me so much, but I am so glad that I realized what I was doing and made a change in time to still see the beautiful city of Florence through my own two eyes.