A dear friend and I in Toronto, Canada
This may be a bit dramatic, but I am convinced I would not survive before the existence of Internet connections and online communication. Granted, this has to do with perspective; of course, I would not realize I was missing such an awesome tool for information and keeping in touch if it had not existed yet. All I know is I am thankful to be alive in this current age because I am not much of a snail-mail girl.
These thoughts came to me recently as I have been in the Dominican Republic for the past two and a half months. I found myself missing my friends and family back home when I realized I have nothing to complain about. With such easy access to social media due to the ever-increasing availability of Wi-Fi, I am frequently in contact with people from home. All I have to do is scroll through Facebook and I am immediately filled-in on people’s lives. Instagram, however, has been my preferred medium because it’s fantastic to just browse through photos without the clutter of lots of text and ads that Facebook can have. (It also makes me feel like a professional photographer with all the fancy filters.)
The benefit of using social media while abroad is a two-way street, however, because friends and family can keep up with me as well. Instead of calling or emailing parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends, all of these important people in my life (plus random acquaintances and the occasional stalker) are updated on my life in one fell swoop as I post photos and status updates.
One of the greatest ways social media has impacted my abroad experiences, however, is by giving me an ability to maintain friendships that began abroad. My Facebook friends consist of people I met on various trips, and I am so glad to be able to maintain those friendships today. I can honestly say if it weren’t for social media, I would never be able to communicate with so many people I met abroad. Although they were in my life for a brief period, we can maintain a relationship thanks to the upgrade from snail-mail.
All these advancements in social media communication, however, do come with a few drawbacks: it can be way more impersonal when I am not contacting to loved ones directly, so I make an effort to call or email those exceptionally special people (consider yourselves lucky ;)) Also, constantly being connected to people from home can distract from your abroad experience if you are not careful. Especially if you are only spending a semester abroad, it is important to take advantage of every minute in this new and exciting place. Home will be there when you get back, and I can bet you that not much will have changed in four months. I met too many people as an undergrad who I believe missed out on their experience abroad by being on Skype for hours at a time every day with people from home. Doing this, unfortunately, makes you miss home way too much and keeps you from making great connections with friends abroad.
I encourage those of you planning on going abroad to set a certain time of day or week for social media use, and catch up with friends and family during that time slot only, so you can take full advantage of exploring your surroundings!
How have you seen social media while traveling help or harm you?
Are there any apps or websites that are particularly helpful for communicating while abroad?
-Kimberly, Mandy's Mashups Intern
I usually don't write about the conferences I attend because to be honest most of the time I usually don't attend many of the sessions, except the ones I am presenting at, and am usually meeting with partners or potential partners. Additionally, in the last few years I haven't really found any sessions that have really inspired me or given me great ideas to put into practice.
This all changed when I recently attended the 2012 Forum on Education Abroad Conference in Denver, CO this past March. I was fortunate enough to also attend the Standards Institute in addition to the regular conference activities. All I can say is that this is a must attend for all those in the Education Abroad field. In total, there were really only 1-2 sessions that really didn't resonate with me but every other session I attended created so many ideas that I wanted to incorporate into my work that the conference actually became overwhelming. I have page after page of notes from the sessions I attended. The worst thing that happened was that I kept thinking about all the new concepts I wanted to incorporate but then had to stop to think about how I would be able to incorporate them all given the short staff situation I am currently in and already being overwhelmed and overworked as the new Director of an international education office. In the long run, that is a good problem to have. I haven't had that happen in years, in terms of going to sessions that generate so many new concepts I want to being using or attempting.
Some of you may ask what makes this conference different than all of the others out there that we in the international education field get asked to attend. There are several things that I think make this conference worth attending. One is that it is focused on just education abroad rather than the entire international education field. Additionally, the caliber of the sessions is extremely high. As a mentioned earlier I only attended 1-2 sessions in a 3 day period that didn't really resonate with me. (I won't mention what those were so as to not pick on anyone and those sessions may have resonated with others.)
Another factor that plays heavily into this conference is while, yes, you do get a chance to meet with partners and other colleagues that is not the purpose of most people's time there. The conference gives you plenty of time to network with extended coffee breaks and several receptions so you don't have to worry about missing sessions to talk with people. Plus the exhibit hall is only open for one day which means you have to focus your attention on the sessions.
I can't say enough about the high caliber of the sessions; what I also want to mention is that this conference is a must for education abroad professionals to attend, it is also a great opportunity to bring faculty and others that work with education abroad to assist them in understanding everything that goes into making programs run. It would be great to get these individuals to this conference especially those that have been involved for years in running programs but don't necessary understand why offices have some of the policies they do.
While I haven't talked about individual sessions since what may resonate with me may not resonate with you I would still encourage everyone to try and make this conference every year and make it a priority for your budget to attend this conference. Also consider the Standards Institute, which would have been enough for me in terms of generating ideas, but seems to hit on some of the most relevant topics in the field today.
I will say it would be great if they covered a few more technology topics related to education abroad, especially more than the typical blogs that have been around for awhile and focus on a few more of the newer technology but that is just from some that is fully integrated into social media. :)
If you attended the Forum Conference in Denver I would love to have you comment with your thoughts on this event as well.
Hope to see you at the next Forum on Education Abroad Conference in Chicago in 2013.