But the other weird flipside of that is that people expect you to be able to be fairly immersed in your at-home life while you are abroad. This happens on both a social (“why haven’t you uploaded Facebook photos yet?”) and academic (“you need to register for classes/apply to the honors program/find your summer internship”) level.This has been a weirdly America-focused week for me. When people talk about the dangers of technology while going abroad, they seem to be focused on you withdrawing—staying on Facebook (or blogging, ahem) rather than engaging with wherever you are. This happens, of course, and I’m guiltier of it than most.
After a minor existential crisis earlier this week, I decided to pursue an honor’s thesis for the coming year. Because you’re required to file all of that paperwork before April, this has meant that I’ve spent a lot of this week writing in English, to other English-speakers, about things I’ll be doing when I’m back at home. Ditto with the very weirdly terrifying experience of asking someone whose work I really like if I could maybe possibly work for them this summer—which requires me being able to email them.
These things do need to be planned, of course, but I think it supports the idea that I used to talk about on HackCollege (during other existential crises) that the American higher ed system in no way allows you to ever stop moving forward. The people in my program can’t just have a study abroad experience—we still have to be actively, digitally engaged in our home institution’s goings-on so we can hit the ground running when we return in May.
I still haven’t decided if this is an overall positive thing or not. On the one hand, we probably won’t come back from our study abroad experiences feeling alienated or disconnected from our home institution. I do think that that was a risk in pre-digital study abroad—my mother spend her last year of college primarily around other members of her study abroad program for that reason. The flip side, of course, is that it’s almost impossible to be immersed in the present moment of your study abroad without having the background noise of your home life intruding.
In particular, there’s the idea that we have to perform the study abroad experience in real time. We have to upload photos to Facebook as they happen. We’re encouraged to blog. We’re constantly culling our experiences and trying to present them in a mostly-positive light for outside consumption even if we’re not quite done processing our feelings about the experiences.*
Of course, I’m guilty of participating in that system because I hate, hate, hate going more than a few days without getting online. I miss my friends and family at home, and I do feel like I need to stay in the loop of what happens in the parts of the internet that I care about if for no other reason than to get my weekly does of political rage in**. And I don’t feel like homesickness or isolation brought on by lack of communication with my “real life” would help my experience here, really.
All of which is to say: opinions are confusing! The internet is fun! And—in case you’ve actually made it through this whole thing—that dress in the photo up top is another Ousmane creation and I love it so much. Did you know that it’s covered in gold fabric paint? Because it totally is. I may not come back from this experience with any concretely-settled opinions, but I am going to have a sweet wardrobe.
* She said, on her interblag.
** Seriously, American politics, what the fuck?