School’s Out: Students Travelling Abroad & Social Media
While parents understand that teenagers may gravitate to spending their summers with old friends doing activities in their hometown, summertime provides a great opportunity for teens to step outside of their comfort zone. Arguably, one of the most effective approaches to providing a fun-filled summer which stretches teens’ cultural, intellectual and social horizons is participation in a study abroad program. Besides the opportunity to pursue current interests or develop new ones, study abroad programs offer teens the excitement of travel and the chance to participate in and learn about different traditions. Depending on the program that your child chooses to travel with, he or she will have the chance to build new friendships with a group of students who come from a wide variety of states and countries.
Per a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 95% of teens have a smartphone and 45% of them are consistently online. Of course, students studying abroad will most likely document their travels on social media. Recognizing that one’s social media profile can provide their first impression to the outside world, especially for high school students who are building their academic resume for colleges and potential employers, most study abroad programs provide a set of specific guidelines for teens regarding their use of social media. Abbey Road Programs has a particularly constructive approach to this issue, encouraging students to use social media for telling stories about their unique experiences abroad in an educational and appropriate manner.
“We encourage our students to maintain a strong yet respectful presence on Instagram and our company blog during their summer travels abroad”, says Arthur Kian, founder and director of Abbey Road Programs. “The members of our Student Ambassador program stay in touch with their friends and loved ones back home by uploading weekly pictures of architecture, cuisine, or landmarks in Western Europe and Quebec. Social media is a great opportunity for students to show colleges and potential employers their experiences immersing with cultures while studying in international universities”.
Student Ambassadors at Abbey Road publish their study abroad activities on Abbey Road’s website, as well as onto their personal Instagram accounts. While the organization encourages student ambassadors to actively publish their happenings on social media, Abbey Road also emphasizes that students should structure their content appropriately for a variety of audiences – not just peers. Blog and Instagram typically submissions occur a few times per week, allowing students to document new discoveries, friends and adventures.
For those of you who are about to send your child to another part of the globe, how can you make sure that your child is making their online presence interesting yet appropriate? Sue Scheff, founder of Parents Universal Resource Experts, Inc, argues that a teen should create his or her social media profile as their ‘Professional Brand’. “As your young adult starts to navigate the professional world, it’s more important than ever to start refining their online reputation”, says Sue. “For some young people, this might mean redefining themselves online. While you can’t redefine your young adult’s online presence for them, you can encourage them, and even take a moment to polish your own social media while you’re at it.”
Social media and blogging are the primary means of connecting with your friends and family when international calling and texting is limited and expensive. How can parents make sure that their child’s content is meaningful and doesn’t harm their reputation for years to come? Never be afraid to discuss with your son or daughter the consequences that can come from posting text or pictures that can convey a negative impression to colleges or employers. However, while there’s a need to emphasize the importance of safety in online behavior, parents should also acknowledge the positive impressions conveyed by documenting new experiences while, for example, studying abroad.
Evan O’Connor is the Outreach Coordinator for Abbey Road Programs and leader of the company’s Student Ambassador Program.