A record number of American college students are studying abroad – 282,000 according to the most recent data gathered by the Institute of International Education.
Educators say that’s good, since international education promotes critical relationship building and cross cultural understanding. But many in the field worry the influx of technology and social media may be hampering the ability of American students to fully immerse themselves abroad.
At Middlebury College’s annual study abroad fair, program administrators from all over the world recently touted their schools to travel hungry students.
Wairimu Ndirangu, has directed St. Lawrence University’s Kenya Program for 15 years. Like many in the field, she thinks students today are too plugged in to friends and family back home. “We talk about it all the time. It’s nice that students get connected and feel safe,” said Nkirangu. “But then on the other hand we feel like we’re losing quite a bit of the full student when they’re plugged to the other side.”
Barbara Hofer, a Psychology Professor at Middlebury College, believes it’s fairly new for people to be so connected while away. She’s currently researching the impact of technology on study abroad programs to provide more hard data on the subject. “It’s not just that they can email or text or make a phone call, they also have Skype; they have Face Time; they have Viber,” she said, plus all the social media.