Socially abroad: an opportunity for heightened communication

NICKI PADAR / AGGIE
NICKI PADAR / AGGIE

French Embassy, Office of Global Affairs encourage social networking

Studying abroad is an opportunity for students to find themselves living in a Moroccan wilderness town of 11,000 inhabitants, studying evolution in the Tahitian tropics or simply people-watching for hours at a Parisian café. No matter where their travels take them, social media allows students to leave a virtual breadcrumb trail of their exciting international stories.

Last December, the UC Davis Office of Global Affairs said oui, merci to a $20,000 grant from the French Embassy. Global Affairs matched this amount, and most of the $40,000 will be awarded in scholarships to students studying abroad in France. In order to receive a scholarship, students must develop a blog, video blog or photo album during their travels in order to promote study abroad programs through social media.

“Social media is a powerful tool and no matter what platform students use, the Study Abroad Office encourages students to take social media to the next level,” said Blake Cooper, the manager of Study Abroad Marketing and Communications. “I meet with students before they travel and help them address beforehand how they want to use social media to share their experiences abroad.”

Cooper has an extensive background in building social networks and and specializes in helping students document their stories on various social media platforms. One such platform is a collection of stories and articles written by students who have studied abroad, Study Abroad: Our Stories, of which Cooper is the managing editor. Aside from simply posting photos of food or landscapes, Cooper specifically aims to help students document their travels in a way that benefits them in their future careers.

“I’m constantly thinking of ways to help students tell their stories from abroad so when they graduate, they know how to articulate those experiences in an interview,” Cooper said. “Social media platforms can be fun and inspiring to others at home, but is also an important tool to differentiate yourself from hundreds of applicants applying to the job you want.”

Cooper aims to help students harness their social media expertise into an online portfolio, such as LinkedIn. This way, students can present to employers exciting content from several months abroad in 30 seconds or less. It is also a handy tool to use when living abroad.

“Studying abroad led to many adventures and social media was a really big part of that,” said Andrew Borst, a third-year managerial economics major. “There were times when I would travel to a new city and didn’t have a place to stay, so I reached out on Facebook and a bunch of people were able to hook me up with accommodations through distant relatives and friends.”

For Borst, one of the highlights of the trip was being able to capture moments on Instagram and Snapchat so friends and family were able to keep up with his dynamic adventures. However, even an avid social media user like Borst realized the importance of stepping back from electronics during his travels to Barcelona, Dublin and other cities in Europe.

“There were definitely people in my program who let [social media] encroach on their lives,” Borst said. “We would go somewhere and there would be a beautiful waterfall […] and I would sit and look at it and take in the moment trying not to have too much of a distraction. Many people would just take a picture then go back inside because it was cold […] that’s when social media got too far.”

Through his program, Barcelona Study Abroad Experience, Borst spent Fall Quarter in Europe taking classes during the week and taking the weekends to travel. Despite this fast-paced lifestyle, it is still possible to miss home and the people back in Davis. For Borst, social media was a crucial component in staying connected to his California roots.

“Without social media, the biggest change in leaving for three months would be not keeping up with anyone and probably feeling lonely and detached,” Borst said. “I was doing amazing and fun things, but still it gets rough and you want to keep up with your life back home. Social media kept me tied to Davis and my friends at home could also live through [my trip] with me.”

Professor and language program coordinator Julia Simon also expressed the importance of balancing social media usage while experiencing foreign places and cultures.

“I have seen people go through Le Louvre or Musee d’Orsay and just look at things through the camera on their phone instead of having a relationship with the art in front of them,” Simon said. “We often see people here who have to photograph something before they eat it but if you go to France, you’re not going to get away with that […] the French take eating very seriously.”

While social media can help people brush up on the places they will be visiting before they leave, most travelers believe it is important not to let it impede experiencing the unique cultures in the moment. Simon noted that immersion allows for cross-cultural connections to be built and new perspectives on world politics to develop. Whether students stay in London or the Moroccan wilderness, every abroad story is worth sharing. Even the simplest Instagram post could encourage fellow UC Davis students to venture abroad, or help one stand out to potential employers as a worldly, cultured member of society.

“My daughter travelled to Sri Lanka and posted a video of her at a wildlife sanctuary picking up a tiny, baby sea turtle, and that had much more of a living, breathing impact versus if she had told me about it over the phone,” Simon said. “Social media allows for a running commentary on your daily existence and becomes an interesting living journal where you record things but are able to share them. I’m sure the French government was hoping for more of that with these scholarships.”
Written by: Gillian Allen — features@theaggie.org