Unplugged: Study Abroad and the Detachment From US News

What impression do you have of the news this week?

The above question was asked by my UK Media tutor during class and I drew a blank. I knew absolutely nothing about what had happened in the world that week and I have not looked at a newspaper or turned on the news since arriving in England about four weeks ago.

A stark contrast to my news consumption habits when I’m back home in Ohio. I listen to the news every day, check my CNN and New York Times apps daily, and overall, while I may not know specifics, I have a general idea about what is going on in the United States as well as the world.

So it got me thinking, why have I completely lost those habits in just a matter of four weeks? Is it just me or are my fellow Denisonians that are currently abroad experiencing the same sense of detachment?

When asked if since being abroad she feels disconnected to what’s happening in the news at home, Denison junior Anders McLeod said, “I actually do feel really disconnected. Sometimes, it’s kind of funny because my host family will say things like, ‘Wow, did you hear about such and such in the US?’ and I feel totally out of the loop and look kind of stupid for not knowing about basic things like the hurricanes or Trump’s speech to the UN. My host family has had to fill me in on all of it.”

McLeod is studying with DIS-Stockholm in Stockholm, Sweden and mentioned that because much of the news is in Swedish, she is not consciously looking for or is even exposed to the headlines very often.

Similarly, Denison junior Laura Robinson, who is studying with Arcadia at the Umbra Institute in Perugia, Italy, says, “Overall, I do feel a little less aware of what all is going on in the news at home since I don’t hear much about U.S. current events in day-to-day life in town. If I’m not consciously making an effort to check up on the news at home, I think it’s really easy to forget and just go about my days focusing on what’s happening in Italy.”

Robinson also said that studying with other American students has allowed her to stay a little more connected to what is happening back home because of her ability to, “…scroll through social media and see news articles posted on Facebook.” She says, “I think having that social media connection and living with American students helps me stay a little more tied to what’s going on at home.”

Both McLeod and Robinson have been getting their news primarily from social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter. Robinson also gets her news from theSkimm, a daily email that compiles U.S. news and global current events headlines.

Along with social media, I have my news alerts turned on so if something notable happens, news wise, it will pop up on my phone. But after speaking with McLeod and Robinson, as well as discussing the issue in my class, I don’t think this is enough.

It seems rather silly and self-centered of us study abroad students, but this year on September 11, when I wasn’t bombarded with images, emails, speeches, and overall American patriotism, I forgot that it was the date one of the most important events to have happened in American history. It was a surreal feeling. I forgot an event that has been engrained in my mind since I was a child.

I think we live in a country that is very focused on itself and when you remove yourself from this very American-centric way of thinking, you expose yourself to the thought process of the rest of the world. The rest of the world doesn’t put America first, but from a young age we are conditioned to do exactly that.

I think what makes study abroad students feel so disconnected to not only U.S. news, but news in general, is the fact that we have undergone a major life change. And while it may be for only a semester, or even a full year for some, when we are no longer surrounded by what is familiar to us, it becomes more difficult to remember that life continues back home, even though we are no longer there to experience it.