Why I’m glad I studied abroad when I did
Last year in a theater, I saw the amazing and wonderful 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird. I had seen it before, but never on the big screen, so it was a pure treat. I remember when the movie ended thinking to myself how truly simpler the times were then, (the movie is set in the 1930s American South). Children actually played outdoors, and played with each other. There was no such thing as “screen time” then or apps, or sleek, shiny electronic objects you give to your child to keep them occupied. Ironically enough, as I was exiting the theater, I overheard another couple saying the same exact thing I had just been thinking.
In the age of Snapchat, and Instagram, and Facebook, and Twitter (and on and on the social media list goes), I will be forever glad I studied abroad when I did. Because when I studied in Korea, Costa Rica, and Spain, they truly were simpler times. To put it into perspective, when I studied abroad in Seoul during the summer of 2004, Facebook had been started only months before and membership to the website was limited and exclusive (originally it was only available to Harvard students, then it rolled out to other higher education institutions). While I had a cell phone, I sure as heck didn’t have it with me in Korea, so when I spoke with my parents, it was from the confines of the common living area in my dorm suite. And Internet usage? Well, that was achieved by going up to the 12th floor computer lab in the dorm where I was living.
By the time I studied in Costa Rica (less than a year later), I still had my non-digital camera, meaning months later when I returned home, I got my pictures developed (I figured my Spanish skills weren’t up to snuff to try to get the film developed while there). I also still used a portable CD player for my “jams.” I won’t lie, I did feel like a quasi-loser as I was one of the only people in my program who didn’t have an iPod. That, and my jams selection was still limited to just 12 CDs, what my case held. I did remedy that at the end of the summer when I bought my first iPod. It was such a lifeline for me in Spain, and ooof, how wonderful a feeling it was to not have to cart an item as bulky as a case filled with CDs.
When my semester in Spain rolled around, things were different, I’ll admit. I (finally) had a digital camera, meaning I could upload photos to Snapfish and share the albums with my family and friends as I took them. Facebook was a common thing, at least for college students (this was still before the stay at home moms took it over with their overabundance of sharing every photo and observation about their child known to man).
And I did buy a cell phone when I was there. But it was still just a phone, no Internet. It was a phone that I bought minutes for each month but one that, nevertheless, was a great thing to have. I could text people to meet up, and make calls to restaurants and travel booking sites. I was only in Korea for a month and in Costa Rica, after the first month, everyone in my program went their separate ways when we went to do our internships, so I was very much a woman on her own island. A phone wasn’t really needed; my parents were able to call my host family’s house directly. But I was in Spain for four months and having this cheap phone made a world of difference during my time there. (At the end of the semester I paid it forward to the next person who would live with my host family as I left a note saying he or she would just need to buy minutes for the phone.)
All in all, I’m glad I studied in these amazing countries when I truly could just focus on the culture, on the language. When I wasn’t concerned about getting likes or what hashtags to use or how frequently I should be posting. I lived in Korea, Costa Rica, and Spain when you could walk around and literally maybe only see a cellphone or two. Cellphones didn’t proliferate like today because back then, there was no black hole known as Facebook or mindless games to play or people to compare yourself to or feel jealous based on what they’re posting.
People think today’s kids are lucky because they’re growing up with these incredible and wonderful technologies. I don’t necessarily fully agree with that. To me, they’re growing up in an age where they don’t know or understand the wonderful thing about the art of simplicity and for this, I feel bad for them.
For today’s college students studying abroad-
If you’re lucky enough to be able to study abroad, while you’re there, be there. You’re in the place that many people not just dream about visiting but living there. Save for talking and checking in with family at home, put down the phones. Get off of Facebook, uninstall Snapchat, savor this once in a lifetime experience because all of those truly mindless social media applications will still be there when the semester or summer is over. See the new world you’re immersed in through your own two eyes, not through your phone. Take photos, but don’t feel like you have to or need to share those photos right away. Make your time abroad your time and not anyone else’s.
To read an interview I recently did about my three study abroad experiences, click here.
Pin me and save for later!