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
Here is another guest post by an international education professional using social media for international recruitment. Let's see what Marty has to say about the extensive social media presence he manages.
How does social media influence your international education job?
I’m in a fairly unique position in that social media now represents about 50% of my daily work, more some days. As the marketing coordinator for the EducationUSA network of 400+ advising centers in 170 countries, I’ve got a lot of ground to cover. We’ve grown our social media presence from a smattering of a half-dozen Facebook pages and about 30 random YouTube videos back in early 2009, to currently 150+ Facebook pages, groups, & profiles, 70+ EdUSA Twitter feeds, over 300+ YouTube videos on branded channels, a couple dozen active blogs, 60+ EdUSA Connects webinars, two main iTunes podcast feeds (for US higher ed & international student audiences), all of which conservatively connect with over 290,000 contacts a month. I’m spending the first couple of hours each day check my Google Alerts and Google Reader, scheduling posts to our various platforms, then work shifts to answering questions on our global Facebook page, reviewing video content from recent webinars or student testimonials, Skype’ing with US admissions reps and advisers, etc.
How did you get into social media?
Back in 2005, when I was Director of International Services at Ball State University, in charge of international student recruitment, orientation, advising and programming, Facebook was just starting to explode across college campuses. We were still using primarily email and letters to communicate with both current students and prospective ones. As we began seeing fewer current international students attending events where we’d invited them by email, we began to wonder why. We asked some students if they had gotten their messages about events, and they said they rarely check their email, and suggested sending messages on Facebook instead. The light bulb went off in my head for this “duh moment” – we needed to be communicating using the tools that our students were using.
From there we also transitioned that philosophy to our recruitment efforts with increased video content, chats, as well as introducing Facebook groups to our arsenal of tactics to reach our key audiences where they lived.
What is one social media tool you cannot live without now?
HootSuite! I will sing their praises from the rooftops. Of all the tech start-ups and social media management tools out there, HootSuite is already the most comprehensive, and is incredibly responsive to feedback and suggestions for improvement. While in Vancouver for NAFSA, a colleague of mine from the study abroad side, Ruth Sylte (@GoAborad.com), invited me to visit HootSuite’s headquarters to meet with Dave Olson, Community Director. We had an enlightening conversation learning of the company’s history and exponential growth, particularly in light of recent political revolutions in the Middle East, and natural disasters in Haiti, Chile, & Japan. When traditional communications broke down post-earthquakes tools like HootSuite were used to communicate the news. And even when certain platforms like Twitter & Facebook were “turned-off” in Egypt & Tunisia, folks used tools like HootSuite to get the news, photos & videos out that kept the outside world informed. In my work, day-to-day, our team’s efficiency has grown tenfold since we began using HootSuite to spread our messages across platforms, and to schedule posts (lifesaver), and to monitor the conversations/key words that matter most to us.
What is one thing you wish you knew about social media that would have made getting involved with it easier?
How intuitive it can be. Social Media does mean learning all the ins and outs of “how to” use particular platforms to do it well, as with any new tool. But it the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t require completely forgetting everything you ever learned about what your message is. Rather social media represents a new set of tools and tactics that can be used to achieve existing strategic goals.
What do you think social media's biggest impact has been on international education?
Social Media has allowed our communities to grow closer together, and to find grounds for greater collaboration. Institutions who may have been struggling to reach students overseas now have new less (financial) capital intensive means to reach them. The goals of mutual understanding are much more easily achieved in the immediacy and efficiency of communications allowed for through social media channels.
Why do you continue to use social media?
Because my network of colleagues truly spans the globe. I say this not to brag, as I know in this field, we all share that in common. To be able to Facebook chat with an adviser in Nepal who is having issues downloading a file due to bandwidth issues within seconds of him asking, to Skype video call my wife and son while I am away on my travels in Costa Rica, to present global EdUSA Connects sessions for students overseas that have reached thousands, and to share with my colleagues both domestically and abroad how these tools can help then better do their jobs, make life without social media not an option. I mean really, who doesn’t enjoy getting birthday greetings on their Facebook wall from dozens of countries in multiple languages!
Born in England, Marty Bennett first came to the U.S. on an L-2 visa in 1974, at age 5. Marty has worked in the international education field since 1993, both in the U.S. and in the U.K. After a seven year stint at Marquette University, he worked at ACS-International, Cobham campus, outside of London serving as an assistant dean of admissions, and assisted with college counseling. Mr. Bennett also enjoyed time at Saint Mary’s College (IN), and most recently at Ball State, where he served for 5 years as Director of International Services. During that time, Marty volunteered on the Region VI Team as the RAP rep for two years, and was a key contributor to Destination Indiana, and the Council of International Schools’ Committee for Europe, the Middle East & Africa. He joined IIE as the first EducationUSA Marketing Coordinator in November 2008. Marty is committed to advancing the EducationUSA network and establishing stronger partnerships with the U.S. higher education community in achieving their international priorities. Social Media represents, next to international education, his greatest professional passion, on which he spends half of an average work day.
If you studied abroad and used social media and are interested in being a guest blogger, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog is all about social media. I hope to offer tips, tricks, advice and more on using social media within international education and international travel.