Written by Amanda Bradrick, University of Nevada, Reno student studying in Reggio Emilia, Italy Spring 2015
Traveling to a different country and leaving behind comfortable faces and lifestyles can be scary. Or so I thought.
With today’s technology providing an absurd amount of ways to stay in touch, this has become an issue of the past. It actually seems impossible to avoid knowing what your best friend’s sister ate for breakfast that day. Let’s face it; we are all guilty of gluing our eyes to the screens of our iPhones, tablets, or MacBook Pros. We do this with the intent of curing that pesky case of FOMO (fear of missing out) by use of social media outlets. We use Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and beyond to give us a glimpse of what is going on in every corner of the Earth. Especially when you’re studying abroad, this continuous update on your friends’ and family’s lives at the swipe of your finger can be comforting. But then why did you even study abroad in the first place? Is this not a time of self-discovery? Don’t get me wrong; social media is an incredible and powerful tool with many purposes that I will continue to use when I return home. But none of these purposes apply while studying abroad. I’ll admit it, I too am guilty of this social media consumed lifestyle, and nothing changed when I left to study abroad. That is until I lost my phone and my MacBook Pro crashed.
First Month Woes
In the first month and a half that I was in Reggio Emilia, Italy on the USAC program, everything was amazing and new. Every place that I visited was something I wanted to share with my loved ones in the US. I have been to some of the most beautiful places on Earth—dazzling places, perfect for being in the moment. When I look back to what I was thinking at specific moments of bliss, I remember wondering what my friends and family would think of the next picture I posted or the next Snapchat I sent. That makes me sad. Social media was top of my mind at the time. I know that others are guilty of this as well. In this generation, we are conditioned to think this way. To be honest, though, I didn’t even realize that constantly wondering what others would think of my life and what I was doing was a problem. That is until the best thing that I could have wished for (without knowing it at the time) happened to me.
The thing about snowboarding on the Swiss Alps and dropping your iPhone off a chairlift… it’s impossible to find it. Or in my case, you can find it by some miracle and then lose it again within 2 minutes by missing your pocket and dropping it again. Don’t worry, though, I got over it and enjoyed the day on the mountains because, after all, a phone is just an object, right?
Reality sunk in when I returned to Reggio Emilia. I had no way to contact anyone. No text messages, no phone calls and no FaceTime. Pictures wouldn’t be captured on my trips, I had no alarm to wake me up every morning and Snapchat was out of the question. Within the first day of not having it, I realized how dependent I was on my phone. A little rectangular piece of metal and glass ran my life and I hadn’t even realized it.
Shortly following the death of my dictator phone, my MacBook Pro’s hard drive decided to crash. I took these events as a sign that it was time for me to check out of social media and into the real world. I was so consumed by the updates on everyone’s lives on social media, I forgot to focus on the amazing life that I was living.
Then and Now
I have gone without a phone for over a month now and I do not miss it at all. I am significantly happier. Why is this? Because I am 100% focused on me. When I left to study abroad, I went with the intent of finding out more about who I am and what is morally important to me. I had never been out of the country and it has been a dream of mine ever since I can remember. However, you can’t leave your flaws behind at customs when you leave for a European adventure. One of my flaws was that I cared what others thought on social media. After I lost easy access to this, I was on my own. However, I am lucky enough to have amazing friends in my USAC program who share their photos from trips with me and let me contact my family on their phones. Other than that, I am flying solo.
What I have learned
Before all of this happened, one of my main beliefs I have always carried with me is that there is forever a reason to feel grateful. I thought that I had practiced this to the best of my ability. But now, without my phone to distract me, all I feel is appreciative, grateful and thankful. As much as I love knowing that my friends and family are enjoying life through social media, I feel as though I can appreciate them even more now without it. Since the constant updates aren’t being exchanged back and forth, it makes the stories that we share that much better when we do get the chance to talk.
The appreciation doesn’t stop there. I have a whole new outlook on each day of my study abroad experience. I live in my moment and not in someone else’s. I have been to Switzerland, Spain, the Netherlands and cities all over Italy. I can account for the trips without my phone better than the ones with it. I still have Morocco, Hungary, Germany, Ireland and Croatia to look forward to. Now I will actually see each place I go with my full attention and gratification. If I can give any piece of advice to any future adventurers: leave the phone at home. Bring a camera. Be in your own moment. Others can wait; the stories will be worth it.