I don’t need to convince you that technology has both benefits and drawbacks. Ample evidence, including your own personal anecdotes, show that technology helps us stay connected…but too much ‘technology time’ and we risk: lost sleep, heightened anxiety, depreciating quality of relationships, isolation, the list goes on…
Technology is also positive. Ken and I spent our entire pre-marriage relationship in long-distance: Skype + What’s App were huge advantages for us.
To be sure, technology has helped our society; it’s also hindered us.
Here’s a reality with which overseas internship coordinators must now contend:
More students are leaving overseas internships early since the advent of e-mail and other forms of electronic communication.
In fact, prior to e-mail, my own personal fact-finding ventures have revealed that Canadian students enrolled in overseas internship programmes only left programmes early in extreme emergency situations. Now, students are abandoning their overseas adventures early despite being able to maintain connections both at home and abroad.
Read the last sentence again. It is my belief that it is mainly because of the maintenance of those connections.
WHY? 2 key reasons:
- Culture shock, the unsettling feeling that occurs when one is thrust into a new environment and does not understand the underlying rules governing social behaviours, is an inevitable consequence of travel. If you’re staying in a community for a longer period of time (2 weeks +) you will move beyond the first stage of culture shock – the honeymoon period (where you love everything and everyone and travel is so so so amazing in your new place!) into the next stage – frustration & anxiety. You don’t understand anything…and negative emotions accompany this.
Culture shock includes social, mental, and physical symptoms. So, a student may feel that (s)he is ill and must abandon the overseas experience and go home…when really (s)he simply has a perpetual flu/cold/new feelings of stress because of culture shock. One of the best ways to overcome culture shock is to make new friends and engage in life in your new community.
The problem is that if you spend your post-internship hours glued to Facebook or Email or What’s App, you aren’t doing the very thing that could cure your cultural shock symptoms.
2. Life Goes On was a show that my sister and I would watch on Sunday evenings growing up, but only if we were sick and thus couldn’t go to the evening church service. The whole premise of the show was that despite life’s hiccups, it goes on, and so must you (that’s a ridiculously short synopsis, but anyways…)
In our world of social media, comparing ourselves to others has become a heightened reality that we must fight. This is true regardless of whether we are travelling or at home. But when you’re travelling that comparison becomes much more acute. Because now you also compare your life to those friends and family who are engaging in the life that was ‘normal’ to you. For example: imagine you’re a student who lives with 3 roommates who are also close friends. You do everything together. Now you are overseas. Every time you look at pictures of these roommates you become sad/jealous/upset/anxious seeing pictures of them doing the very things that you would be doing were you back home.
Yet of course staying connected is important. In fact, some people are now more willing to travel because they can stay connected to back home. So what can you do?
1 – limit your time on social media. and stop the incessant scrolling. When you go onto Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/etc. have in your head (or write down) a list of objectives. Stick to those. Or, if you’d prefer, time yourself and stick to it!
2 – Find other ways to communicate. When I first moved to the UAE, I deleted my Facebook account. My big excuse for staying on at first was “how will people contact me?!” Well, you know what – there are OTHER ways that people can contact you and, if they absolutely must, either: a) they already know that form of connection, or b) they will find a way. Most of my closest friends and family had my email or phone number. Someone wanted to get a hold of me but couldn’t, so she tracked down my SISTER to find out my information! Maybe sticking to email is an easier way for you to keep ‘sane’ instead of relying on social media.
3 – Connect with home after you connect with your new country. For example: make a rule that you can’t write a letter/check your email until you’re in your bedroom for the night.
4 – Learn the stages of culture shock and recognize them. You know that feeling of “I just don’t feel like doing anything” or “I don’t want to explore this country…I just want to stay in and read” or “I’m feeling extra tired lately – I can’t believe I’m not over jetlag after one month”…etc., etc. This is culture shock. Don’t freak out. Don’t jump on a plane. Get out of the house, even though you don’t feel like it, drag your feet to a museum/colleague’s house/grocery store/something and deal with it!
5 – Just like at home, use social media wisely. I LOVE Instagram and Twitter! And when I’m travelling you better believe I’ll be writing this blog as I go! But all those things you learn about social media – be extra cautious when you’re overseas.
6 – Lots of other things! Leave your tips in the comments.
So there you have it…be wise, be considerate, be experiential…and don’t spend all your time on your phone while travelling! According to evidence, it means you’ll enjoy your travels more, get over culture shock, more quickly, and be less likely to abandon ship early!
Happy travelling, readers!