College students today spend as much time on social media as they do in the classroom, certainly more than their parents spend watching TV. Communicating online is part of daily life and the lifeblood of social structure. For those who embark on an education pursuit abroad, social media can potentially become either quite disruptive or quite enabling to the experience.
When studying abroad, it is best to devise a strategy on how to communicate with the folks back home. This is best planned before leaving in order to avoid random expectations or having to deal with lots of twisted emotions based on presumptions. There is no magic solution to the dilemma of keeping in touch, however like any other travel issue, you should have a plan. Here are some things to consider:
Bandwidth is expensive
Bandwidth overseas, especially on smart phones and tablets, can be very expensive. Travel between countries also brings with it issues around different carriers; rates vary by country, which is something to be mindful of during weekend excursions.
Access can be slower
Being online abroad is slower and filled with disruptions, especially in connecting with web services back at home. Even if you find Wi-Fi, the connections to home may be sluggish and certain functions limited based on the overseas location.
There are better things to do
Students abroad will get to experience once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Get out and live life to its fullest. Forget about sitting in a Starbucks typing happy birthday messages to friends, reading and commenting about sports teams, or being embroiled in the romantic discords of friends back home.
Everyone wants news
Human nature is what it is, and everyone wants to hear how things are going. Keep in mind that students studying abroad need time to become fully involved with the experience.
This last item is of prime concern. To develop a personal communications plan while abroad, a student will benefit from being away from “normal” patterns. This new plan might include:
- Putting a pause on the highly interactive, and at times contagious, Snapchat and Instagram.
- Picking a preferred outlet, build a list of followers, and think about a rational plan to publish your news.
- Blog, Instagram, or Pinterest: for those who love to write, a blog is a great way to chronicle your story and keep everyone informed. Most blogs now allow photo galleries, but for those who love pictures, Pinterest or Instagram is a better way to let those at home know you're doing well and having the time of your life.
- Skipping the phone calls and minimizing Skype; instead, shoot some videos. Skype is a real cost saver and is the practical alternative to using your mobile phone, but to best cope with time zones, consider a GoCam to send video messages to your followers.
And then there's Facebook. If you're already in college, chances are you have an active account. For your time abroad, your Facebook account may be just the place to keep connected with the folks at home, but it is also very, very tempting to get drawn into one-to-one comments. Turn off comments; speak one-way.
The core concept for communication while abroad is shifting communications from one-to-one, or one-to-a-few, into one-to-many. It's important to get that message out to those in your family and social circles before you go, and announce your hiatus on your old accounts. Let everyone know you are away and provide a link to your central broadcast center. Turn off the comments and time-consuming features and build protection around yourself.
For those at home, be patient with the student as they will also want to use social media to keep in touch with classmates and their program provider and also use it to connect with new friends overseas. As part of the communications strategy, the student might want to create new accounts for their time overseas. Several program providers will communicate with students in the host country’s foreign language, adding to the immersion. When the student returns home, they should share with the world a nice summarized account of their experience through a studying abroad program review and sharing it with alumni networks, like The Study Abroad Advantage
As we suggested earlier, there is no magic formula for building a communications plan, but you should still strategize. Recognize that students and parents both have an obligation and desire to stay informed on happenings at home, while at the same time getting the most out of the time abroad. The ones abroad will have a need for face-to-face, one-to-one, or one-to-a-few dialogues. For the folks back home, keep the one-to-many concept in mind and wait patiently for news from abroad.