I have a few friends from high school who I haven’t talked to since the day of graduation, but I still follow them on social media, specifically Snapchat. Some of them post Snapchat stories every 30 minutes and over the course of three years apart, I know exactly who their friends are, what their school and dorms look like, how they spend their free time and other personal things about them. It’s a bizarre feeling of being so close to them and knowing what goes on in their daily life, even though I haven’t spoken one word to them in years. How close to them can I really be by looking through a phone screen?
Seeing people and places through a phone screen leads to false interpretations of what that person, place or culture is like. I read an article recently about the idea of ‘single stories’. You can’t rely on a single experience or a single story about a culture and make generalizations that the single story applies to all of that particular culture. Social media is usually the source of those ‘single stories’. Traveling and experiencing other people and places in person will help you understand that there are good and bad things about every culture and a single story doesn’t define a large group of people. You can learn the ‘different stories’ by talking to the locals and getting to know them.
This is why I believe it’s essential that people in our world today get the chance to study abroad. When we experience another culture, we become more open-minded and accepting. It forces us to get away from the familiar comforts of home, and it makes us realize that our ways of life are not the only ways of doing things. We may learn that certain cultures are much more different or perhaps more similar to us than we might’ve thought. It is extremely humbling to learn from another culture and accept that the way they do things is different from our own. As a result, all superiority is diminished and we can accept the idea that we are there to learn from a different culture, and not the other way around.
Studying abroad has made me realize my world at home is so small and there are so many people to meet and places to see. There’s definitely a difference between being physically present and seeing something through a phone screen on a Snapchat story.
The world awaits…discover it.