When you first tell someone that you’re going to be studying abroad, naturally people will be intrigued. If you’re like me, you’ll get a good amount of people who will say, “Post some pictures, I’d love to keep up with your adventures,” or something of the like. Thanks to social media this is really easy to do nowadays and people, not only those who you’re friends with, can see what you post without having to send pictures out personally. I’ll be the first to admit that I loved taking pictures of my experiences and sharing them via Facebook and Instagram when I was abroad, but it wasn’t my sole focus.
Social media allows us to be constantly connected. On one hand, it facilitates networking and staying connected with new acquaintances we may meet abroad, but on the other hand, social media can create a black hole that sucks us in. It sometimes becomes the case that students studying abroad focus more of their attention on documenting their experience rather than focusing in on the moment and truly immersing themselves. While I think that sharing pictures of what you’re doing can be a really a great way to stay in touch with those back home, it’s important to always remember to live in the moment and collect personal experiences rather than likes on social media. What people think about what you’re doing while abroad should not be more important than you actually living in the moment. There are going to be so many exciting and fun things to experience when you first go abroad, but don’t choose to do something just so you can get a cool picture to post to Instagram for however many likes. If you limit yourself by choosing not to do something because it won’t be as good of a good photo opportunity as something else, your whole study abroad experience might be changed, and not necessarily for the better.
Don’t get me wrong, social media is great for communicating and sharing, but don’t seek to have your time abroad validated by people on social media. Live in the moment and don’t worry about whether your picture only has so many likes. If you like what you’re doing that’s the only “like” that should matter. I can promise that your program will be so much more fun without your nose buried in your phone checking out that day’s social media feeds.
This blog post isn’t saying that you should completely unplug yourself from the grid and disappear from social media altogether. I just want to reiterate the importance of living in the moment and absorbing every single experience you can get, because your time abroad will be over before you know it. Live for the experience, don’t live for a funny caption to go along with your wine tour, or weekend trip to the Paris. Let your social media posts be secondary in your priorities and absorbing yourself in a brand new culture with brand new friends first.
Ava is an Education Abroad Peer Ambassador studying anthropology at the University of Kentucky. She studied abroad in the Lorenzo de’ Medici program with API in fall 2015.