A Generation of Romantics: How Study Abroad is Influencing Millenials
As a twenty-something born in the early 90s, I’ve witnessed no shortage of romance. It is delivered to us in the forms of novels, films, magazines, television, music videos, and more. Young millennials have embraced this notion of romantic love as an idealized goal, and has contributed to widespread “romanticizing” that includes all things material and cultural. We capture these moments of romance in 140 characters or in a square image in the spaces society has constructed for us to share within. Whether it is a snippet of a song lyric shared on Twitter or a love affair with a new pair of boots narrated via Instagram, romance, in numerous forms, is alive and well with our generation.
When it comes to studying abroad, young collegians jump at the chance to catch a plane with close friends, or even complete strangers, and spend time in a foreign destination. Students are encouraged to blog about their experiences abroad, email home, maintain websites, add photos to Instagram, and post continuous updates on Facebook. Such technology, astonishing in itself, permits people all over the world to remain in constant, uninterrupted connection. These images and words provide context to adventures for friends and family at home, and likewise give inspiration to individuals selecting an education abroad experience.
Such connection, however, muddles the purpose of education abroad. All students have differing motivations for choosing to participate in education abroad programs, yet the common denominator is always the opportunity to become immersed in another culture, become proficient in another language, or to develop cultural sensitivity and international experience that will inevitably make an individual stand out as a candidate in professional school applications and job interviews. I struggle with the idea of immersion because of the aforementioned concept of romance. Maybe it isn’t a romantic love, per say, but rather a romanticized fixation on the unknown and what is not presently in front of us. Social media and other revolutionary technological breakthroughs may actually be the downfall of education abroad. While promotion of programs in the field is largely dependent on digital communication, the students abroad are also frequently encouraged to compete in photo or writing competitions in virtual spaces during their time abroad to connect those “at home” with what is taking place abroad. After all, those who helped finance your education abroad investment want to see what their money has paid for, right?
Ultimately, participating in an education abroad experience is a personal journey that can deconstruct entire frameworks in a student’s mind that have been established by ethnocentrism. The concept of “wanderlust”, likewise, tempts undergraduates with few commitments to pack their things, travel, go, see, and do. Education abroad programs at universities across the world are providing unique and invaluable opportunities to students who want to pursue a thirst of cultural knowledge in an unfamiliar setting. Yet, students must let go of the idea of romantic culture, although it can be quite enchanting and awe-inspiring, in order to be entirely present in the space occupied during an education abroad program. Students should consider the longest program available to them for the opportunity for utmost immersion, and consider limiting social media use, communication with “home”, and other interactions that prevent them from living in their present and from taking in their current surroundings. By fully embracing an education abroad experience for what it is, absent of what you can learn about home on Instagram, students will have a more profound, and ultimately life-changing experience.
Photo and post by Sarah Caton
Sarah Caton is an Education Abroad Peer Ambassador studying Spanish and Gender & Women’s Studies. She participated in the UK Partner SOL Costa Rica program.