Don’t trust the study abroad Instagram

Study abroad may not be what it seems from the idyllic photos (Iris Vukmanovic/For The Diamondback

As a foreign correspondent for The Diamondback this semester, I’m definitely enjoying my semester abroad in Barcelona. But I’m here to tell any college kids who don’t have the opportunity to study abroad to not trust Instagram. 

Instagram creates unrealistic travel expectations and ruins the spontaneity of traveling. Social media creates a constant pressure to post the best pictures in the coolest spots, and it’s the same for students who study abroad. Traveling becomes a competition: Who can go to the dopest places? Who can make everything seem like an effortless vacation? Who can take the coolest pictures and get the most likes?

Many college kids come home from abroad and talk about how “life-changing” of an experience it is. Once I got to Spain, I started to feel the need to prove to all my home friends that it is as amazing as everyone else has said it is. 

When traveling is centered on getting “likes,” it becomes less authentic. Although Instagram announced a trial run of hiding “like” counts from followers last year, I wish it would get rid of likes completely. It’s way more enjoyable to use the platform when the focus isn’t on popularity.

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Because that’s what makes young people want to go somewhere for a cool picture instead of the actual place. And, in many cases, the picture that gets posted doesn’t tell the whole story. Social media shows the highlights and nothing else, with perfectly edited pictures creating a facade. 

The pretty pictures don’t show the loneliness or homesickness of traveling. They don’t show the inevitable drama of traveling with friends. They don’t show the stress of figuring out how to get around a foreign country. Pictures don’t reflect the actual trip, and they can make it seem like something it isn’t. 

Part of me wanted to delete Instagram when I left for Barcelona. But another part of me felt the need to keep it so my home friends could stay updated on everything I’m doing. This balance is hard to strike: living in the moment while also documenting enough to look back on. 

It is possible to take pictures away from the pressure of social media. I’ve been carrying around a disposable camera while abroad, which stops me from pulling out my phone all the time. Disposable cameras are light, easily transportable and it’s always a fun surprise to develop the pictures later. Having the physical memory of a moment is nice, too. 

Of course, all of this might be futile if I get sent home due to the coronavirus, but it’s an important discussion to be had. Traveling isn’t perfect, but that’s part of the fun and spontaneity. Whether you’re planning on studying abroad or traveling in general, don’t let social media influence you. True experiences come when you’re not looking down at a screen.

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