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The Role of Technology in Study Abroad

study abroad providers answer questions about technology and communications
Texting while studying abroad, yes or no?

What role does technology and communication play in today’s study abroad experience?  It wasn’t that long ago that students participating on Semester at Sea had very few options for getting news from home or sending back updates.  The ship’s radio was reserved for emergencies.  When the fax gained popularity there was the possibility of receiving faxed updates – but they were unreliable and exceedingly expensive.  Students were forced to travel with a great deal of distance between them and the folks back home.  They could use phones in country to call home, or send and receive packages when they made it through customs.

Given the expectations of today’s generation (and the expectation of their parents) that they are connected 24/7, the SAS expereince has changed greatly.  The ship is now fully connected with its own cell tower, internet access, and in-room phones.  This connectivity can be a blessing for students wanting to send along quick updates, but it can also be a curse for students used to contacting their parents at any time of need.  I’ve actually received more than one call from a worried parent that received a call from their sick child on the ship – only to discover that the student never reached out to anyone on the ship for help.

But beyond the practical issues associated with increased communication capability, there are some philosophical issues as well.  Can students truly have a study abroad experience – whether immersive or comparative – when they are connected the same way they are at home?  Are students really embracing the experience when they need to pause to update Facebook and e-mail photos to their friends at home?  Or to know that their families are one phone call away.

I belive SAS and the study abroad industry will continue to struggle to find the perfect balance of communication capability that maximizes the safety benefits while minimizing the intrusion on the cross-cultural experience.  While technology plays a vital and growing role in other cultures, it is critical that students detatch somewhat from the technological comfort that they have while at home.  This problem only gets more difficult as technology improves, and I encourage all students participating in any study abroad program to think seriously about the role technology will play in the experience.

  • Life at Sea

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