I tend to avoid Instagram stories these days. It’s now populated by girls I know from high school or college who are documenting their abroad experience. In the morning: croissants with mimosas. The afternoon: a shopping tour of Barcelona. And later: drinks on drinks in bars or clubs. Flashing lights. Bodies crushed onto the same dance floor.
I too am abroad, yet somehow my experience has yet to be as flashy. In Edinburgh, Scotland, I spend my day in class, in cafés with friends, or reading a book. Maybe a pub once in a while. However, whenever I’m in a café with a cool ambience or exploring the streets of a new city, I feel the familiar urge to take out my phone and document my experience.
Most of the social media posts I see surrounding study abroad are about bragging rights, from buying expensive drinks to skydiving in the Swiss Alps. It’s tempting to brag, to say “Look at what I’m doing! Isn’t it cultured and artsy?” What I find disturbing about this phenomenon is that it largely takes away from the experience. Instead of taking in the beauty of the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame, we are now just looking at these icons through the lens of our iPhones.
Most students pay extraordinary amounts to travel abroad. Aside from tuition, the costs of study abroad are staggering, particularly in Europe. In Copenhagen, I found myself hardly able to buy a meal under 20 USD. Flights and Ubers are only the beginning of it. Budgeting has become my best friend.
Instead of enjoying the moment, learning about culture, and ingratiating ourselves into a new city, study abroad has largely become about posting our experience on social media. Is this really living in the moment? Being present?
Taking a selfie is now a part of the tourist experience. However, as my time abroad has shown, it might be more beneficial to enjoy the present moment instead of relying on social media to make our excursions look more luxurious than they really are. Instead of the countless stories, snaps, and Facebook posts, maybe we should all just post a few Instagrams and call it a semester.