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Technology connects students abroad with life back home

Facebook, Twitter and blogs allow students to stay in touch with both old and new friends

Students studying abroad adapt to an array of changes, from the food they eat to the classrooms where they study. But for many students, the only technological habit that changes in a foreign country is the adapter they plug into the wall.

As students go abroad looking for adventure and new experiences, more and more bring with them some of the comforts of home: phones and computers. As technology becomes more pervasive, students are turning to high-tech ways of enhancing their time abroad.


Surfing overseas

Regardless of location, the Internet is a constant hotspot for many students. It links them to social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, and provides them with another way to stay in touch with friends and family.

The Internet is easy to access all across Europe, said Catherine Nam ’13, who studied abroad in Italy through the Brown in Bologna program. She found that “technology was prevalent” in all her trips in and outside of Italy, she said.

Leah Stansky ’14 said she realized how much she depended on the Internet when she lost her wireless connection the first week of her study abroad program in Copenhagen.

“I couldn’t email. I couldn’t contact my mom,” she said. “I realized how much it made me feel alone.”

During the rest of her time abroad, she had access to the Internet on her phone and at school, in addition to her apartment’s wireless connection, she said.

Hannah Cockrell ’13 purchased Internet access with her roommates for convenience and used it to check Facebook daily while she studied in France, she wrote in an email to The Herald.

She used Facebook primarily to share photos of her travels with friends and family from home, she wrote.

Many students said they saw the Internet as a positive addition to their study abroad experience.

“I felt I gained a major level of independence studying abroad on my own, but I might have felt alone more often — detracting from my positive experiences in Berlin — without the use of technology,” said Felicia Iyamu ’14.

Facebook and Skype were especially helpful in connecting with loved ones during moments of homesickness, she added.


Bloggers abroad

With so many new experiences to share, students said they often turned to the Internet as an outlet to describe their adventures, keeping blogs on websites such as Tumblr or WordPress.

Terra Laughton ’14 blogged through Tumblr when she studied abroad in Italy and Cuba in spring 2012 and fall 2012, respectively. The two places were very different in terms of access to technology, she said.

She set goals of posting to her blog once a day in Italy and once a week in Cuba because it would have been “frustrating” to spend so much time on a computer in Cuba, she said.

In addition to reflecting the accessibility of technology, her blogs documented the differences in the two study abroad programs, she said. Much of her Italian blog consisted of pictures and descriptions of food, while her Cuban blog turned into a series of short stories with accompanying photographs.

Nam, who said friends regularly call her a “foodie,” kept a food-centric blog during her time in Italy, she said.

“One of the reasons was to chronicle what I ate,” she said. “If I cooked it at home, I tried to think what I liked about a dish and what I didn’t. If I ate out, I talked about the restaurant.”

The blog was also a way to “keep in touch with a lot of people, rather than reaching out individually,” she said.

Iyamu used her blog whenever she wanted to share a revelation about herself or German culture, she said, adding that she did not blog frequently in order to avoid being stressed about updating it.

“It was impossible to write daily updates because I wanted to consume my experience moment by moment without immediately having to think about how to share that with others on my blog,” she said.

Some students start off keeping blogs but discontinue them as the study abroad program continues.

Laughton said she was more diligent about blogging her experiences in Cuba and Italy toward the beginnings of both trips.

“I have never had the patience for journaling,” wrote Cockrell. She tried keeping a blog on Tumblr during her first month studying abroad but stopped after that, she wrote.


Friends old and new

Students said social media can be useful for staying in touch with friends and family no matter how far — or close.

Joanna Zhang ’13.5, who took a semester off to work at the White House, said she used texting, Facebook and emails to commumicate with friends at Brown. Having access to social media kept her in the loop of what her peers were doing, she said, citing the perusal of Facebook albums as an example.

“You’re definitely able to keep tabs more,” she said. “It makes the transition coming back easier because it was more like you were there semi-vicariously.”

Stansky said social media helped her stay in touch with friends despite the time difference. She would check Facebook in the morning when she woke up, which was when her friends in the United States were most active on the site, she said.

In addition to helping students connect with friends back home, social media can also help them maintain new contacts.

Due to the high costs of international phone service, students sometimes use Facebook messages to coordinate with their new peers abroad. Iyamu said she used this method in Berlin, and Nam said she found it helpful in Italy.

Facebook facilitated social interactions in their new environment, students said. Cockrell said she joined Facebook groups for exchange students to learn about weekend trips and events.

Though destinations and experiences varied among students, many said their uses of technology remained the same: seeking new friends and catching up with old.

“When you’re in a new place, it’s natural to look for the familiar,” Nam said.


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