Monday, January 14, 2013

Shockproof

An article in the most recent Chronicle of Higher Education laments the ways that "Facebook can ruin study abroad." Turns out that many of the American students studying abroad these days not only stay in constant phone/text/Facebook contact with friends and families back home but take their whole culture with them - playlists of thousands of songs, DVDs of reruns of favorite TV programs, etc. The internet keeps them up-to-date on favorite series, celebrities, etc., too.

The writer, Robert Huesca, stresses that study abroad programs are often structured in such a way as to encourage much of this; one provider even has the unfortunate slogan "More Culture, Less Shock." But even without typical collegiate hand-holding, it's clear that modern media make difficult the kind of immersion study abroad is supposed to be all about. His recommendations:

The task before us calls for creativity to harness the contributions offered by new technologies and discipline for regulating their threats. We should begin developing required assignments whereby students can demonstrate how Internet access, for example, enhances their international experience in ways that were unthinkable in the days of old media.

Likewise, we should adopt policies that check computer and cellphone uses that we know undermine cross-cultural growth and understanding. Just as some academic programs enforce "language pledges" that forbid students to speak English while abroad, we should institute "media pledges" that prohibit television reruns, instant messaging, and music libraries. We should then dismiss from the program those who violate the pledge.

Could one persuade today's young people to forego their mediated social worlds, though? They might not just be unwilling to give these up but wonder at the point of leaving so much of themselves behind. For that matter, could one get them to think in these terms even for their time in college?! Imagine the culture shock of being stuck in one place, with just the other people in that place, nothing to do but read books and talk about them! The American liberal arts college ideal is premised on the transformative potential of a kind of "culture shock," too, isn't it...

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