Study Abroad isn’t as lit as you saw on your friend’s Instagram, and that’s the best part about it.
Social media is a weird beast. I’m sure you have read countless articles about how millennials are too obsessed with it, how it’s ruining our self esteem, and who knows what else, so I won’t go into it too much. However, I think it’s worth noting how much it can influence our perceptions, as well as our decisions. In my particular case, I fell into the biggest trap of them all: believing that the Instagram world and the real world were one and the same.
My first couple of weeks in Prague were decidedly influenced by social media. As I walked past the beautiful baroque buildings that line the Vltava River, I thought only of how their pastel colors would complement the other pictures on my grid, and I scoured Pinterest to find the trendiest brunch places and cafes. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think social media can be an outlet of creativity and expression for many, but for me it just brings out my ugliest form of perfectionism. I quickly became obsessed with getting the best pictures and I would feel stressed out when the light wasn’t right or if something was ever so slightly off center. Thankfully, reality came around and completely shattered that illusion.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that social media doesn’t always paint a complete picture. There’s that now cliché saying that goes “social media shows you a person’s highlight reel, but never their behind the scenes” and I would agree. I definitely have had some amazing moments: I’ve hiked along the Greek coast and saw where the sea met the sky in such a way that the world looked boundless and infinite, I have floated down the canals of Amsterdam and peered into the warm yellow light glowing from inside the houses that line either side, and I had the flakiest most delicate and buttery croissant in Paris. I am always going to be eternally grateful for these amazing moments that were in a sense, picture perfect. However, what my social media hiatus has taught me is that it’s the not so picture perfect moments, the behind the scenes that matter most.
Real life can be messy, unglamorous, and complicated. It makes sense that we won’t want to share these moments with hundreds of people online. But they are the moments I am most grateful for. My most cherished memories of study abroad aren’t going to be when I took that perfect picture on Charles Bridge, or how my coffee had perfect latte art. No, they’re going to be the time my roommate and I stayed up all night watching Bosnian MTV laughing at the pop music videos, it’s going to be the time I had a panic attack on top of a cliff until I finally found the courage to jump into the ocean and it’s going to be the ugly memories too. Like when my passport and credit cards got stolen in Paris and I had to figure out how to get back by myself, or the time I had to cram for an exam in the middle of the Frankfurt airport. In fact, the ugly memories are the ones I am the most thankful for. We all roll our eyes at the study abroad student who comes back and claims to have been changed by Europe, but it’s true. The struggles and challenges that I have had to face while abroad have made me stronger, more resilient, more patient and optimistic. These are all such valuable things that I would never be able to portray on social media.
So, if you are like me and sometimes forget that the world of the internet is not the same as the real one, try to be a little more mindful! You don’t have to be like me and quit cold turkey, but just give yourself a gentle reminder every once in a while that what you see on your screen is often staged and that genuine experiences are far more valuable. Trust me; your mental health will thank you! And if you ever have the opportunity to go abroad, do it. But don’t do it because it will make you look cool and glamorous on social media, do it because the things you will see, the people you will meet and the things you will learn will change you for the better.
words_luisa gil diaz & photos_marissa vonesh