If you have friends who are abroad, the newsfeed of your social media site of choice inevitably becomes filled with announcements of “study abroad” blogs. Their posts are colorful, filled with pictures of pastries, wine and old buildings. A lucky few will have candids of them lying on a beach, tropical drink served with a tiny umbrella in hand.
The danger of social media has always been the ease in posting carefully curated images and information to create the illusion of a perfect life that, frankly, doesn’t exist. When social media fails to reflect reality but we’re all going off of each other’s posts for what this “perfect life” looks like, well, all of the posts start to look the same.
It’s true that student study abroad blogs have the tendency to become indistinguishable from each other. There’s the post about how “nervous and excited” the blogger is to start their study abroad experience, the post about how they’re “adjusting” to a new culture, a blur of filtered pictures of monuments and food, and the final post where they “say goodbye to a place that has become home” but recognize that they’re “more than ready to go back to BC.”
Even though this formula seems pretty common, there’s a lot of variety in people’s real experiences. Study abroad isn’t all drinking and traveling and going to museums. It’s tough. There are real challenges and frustrations that instead of reflecting on, we gloss over with another photo and clever hashtag.
The pressure that results from the social media culture to constantly share (an idealized version of) our experiences is at odds with some of the most common primary goals of studying abroad: to experience a new culture and to learn about yourself in the process.
Sometimes, though, “abroad” photos don’t look so different from the rest of your newsfeed— where is this group of BC students in a dimly lit basement with flashing neon lights and plastic cups in their hands? Cue the raised eyebrow when the geotag says Parma.
Because, let’s be honest—the point of the “BC Study Abroad Experience” is less about “finding yourself and reflecting” than it is about trading Franzia for a 6 euro bottle of Pinot Noir and MA’s for a different club in a different country every weekend.
When you can’t tell the difference between over-sharing abroad vs. at home, then it’s time to examine the culture of over-sharing as a whole, not just when junior year rolls around. The same that could be said of an abroad blog could be said of the BC students who stayed the semester, documenting every football game and off-campus party.
It’s easy in these cases to criticize over-sharers by writing off their posts as irrelevant or self-involved. The overwhelming presence of social media has bred the counter-culture of “Who cares?” Yes, over-sharing is a problem, but so is post-shaming by implying that no one cares about other people’s posts. Let’s not write off other people’s experiences based on a very limited window into their lives.
Besides, there are good reasons to keep blogs. Most of the students I’ve talked to say they keep a blog for their extended family and friends to read while they’re away—making Christmas dinner at home potentially more bearable. Instead of asking “So, how was abroad?” they can ask you more details about that wine tasting or laugh with you about the specific misunderstanding you had with your host mom.
No, it’s not traditional. But people have always documented their travels for their loved ones. The sentiment of “writing home” has merely been updated and given a URL.
Additionally, study abroad blogs give students the opportunity to create their own content online—which is important to employers in the art, marketing and journalism worlds. Though you might not be having an extraordinarily new experience, writing about the experiences that differ from your daily life give you a chance to reflect and show that you are able to process new information. Thumbs up from future employers.
But, regardless of all of that, let’s get one thing straight here: you went abroad for you, not for your family, friends, future employers or strangers on Facebook. Whatever reasons you did go, remember that sometimes you don’t have to post that picture or write that post. Make sure you keep some memories just for you.