Last week I spent some time talking with Jeramy Johnson, VP of development, and Kim Karalekas, News Media & Research Coordinator, at Academic Programs International (API). We discussed mass media, particularly the rise of social media use and what this has done for the field of international education.
MTV and Study Abroad
In 1999, the MTV show Road Rules cast Semester at Sea study abroad students as the show’s contestants. The Semester at Sea program (also called “Seamester”) is a study abroad program based on a cruise ship which travels to various countries and continents. Students take courses while simultaneously traveling.
The reality TV show Road Rules is about six strangers who complete various challenges in different locations. The image that the TV show gave to study abroad students and the experience as a whole was not a very positive one, according to Jeramy. Road Rules did not portray cultural immersion as an important aspect of international education. Rather, it played on the drama, personal relationships, and game show challenges that the cast members faced. MTV shows are notorious for dramatizing their reality TV shows, and Road Rules: Semester at Sea was no exception. The show broadcasted a perspective that studying abroad is just a big party, and this became a common misconception about study abroad.
Study Abroad in the New York Times
A recent Room for Debate forum discussion in the NYT is titled “A Year Abroad vs. A Year Wasted”. Allan Goodman of the Institute of International Education, and Stacie Berdan, co-authors of “A Student Guide to Study Abroad” are among the participants in the discussion supporting study abroad. The other contributors are a graduate student, a professor, a former U.S. Ambassador, and a current college student. The Room for Debate platform allows for each writer to take alternate viewpoints and provide reasoning.
This debate generated over 400 comments from readers, and the fact that a major news outlet like the New York Times is starting conversations about international education is one more step towards its advocacy. The conversation is much more academic and two-sided than it was when portrayed on MTV’s Road Rules.
Berdan and Goodman write in their post, “Every parent, teacher, professor, adviser and employer should support making international experience an essential and affordable component of a well-rounded education.” Discussions such as these will set new standards for viewing study abroad and its value.
Embracing Social Media
The study abroad field has since created a better image by embracing social media. Websites like GoAbroad.com and companies like API have used social networking sites from Twitter to Google+ as voices that will speak positively to the field. Because (most) social media is free and accessible, it allows everyone from study abroad students to universities to programs the ability to shape the field of international education.
GoAbroad.com was one of the first study sites to jump on the social media bandwagon by creating multiple channels to allow for counseling and consulting with different audiences, such as university study abroad offices, students, media, etc. Their “Go Media” web division is an effort to offer digital marketing solutions for those in the international education field. The campaign was developed exclusively for the field and the travel community.
GoAbroad.com helps find programs abroad, Go Media helps other international education companies/programs with online marketing, and GoAbroad.net connects travelers and expats in “travel groups”. The use of social media by international education programs is increasing and unlimited to certain mediums.
API is active on several social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram. Additionally, API has a blogger program and an alumni development program. These two programs are significant because they benefit not only API as a program, but the students and the study abroad conversation.
API selects students to be guest bloggers as well as official student bloggers. They are to submit blogs before, during, and after their time abroad, as often as they would like. Students are also able to submit content and receive feedback in addition to the opportunity to share their reflections on their experience. Jeramy described the blogger program as API’s “crown jewel”. The number of applicants for the blogger program had a 97% increase from the fall of 2012 to the fall of 2013. Students are able to build their resumes and their personal brand online, while API is generating student-content in the study abroad field.
The alumni development program is also unique. API alumni are chosen to act as campus advocates and peer mentors at their home institutions around the country. By giving students incentives and resources to advocate for international education to their peers, API is finding the value in what students to do encourage others to do the same. They are creating a positive feedback loop, and their social media use plays a big role in doing so.
API’s second most popular referral source is Facebook, suggesting that social media has an impact on how study abroad information is spread. Facebook and Twitter are also their best referral sources for applications. The more public the social account is, the greater the reach is.
The use of media in the field of international education is for a variety of purposes. It generates interaction with friends and family while students are abroad, and it reaches various audiences. It advocates for a more understanding, globalized, and educated world. Because students, alumni, professionals, and prospective students all hold interests in the field, their use of social media shows this, and advances it as well.
In a social media saturated world, encouraging cultural awareness, globalization, and over all social good is increasingly common. Websites like GOOD.is, Upworthy.com, Brain Pickings, and many viral posts are advocating for international education in very indirect ways. Many mission statements and purposes of various websites and outlets share the same purpose of international education. For example, GOOD.is’ about page states:
GOOD is a global community of, by, and for pragmatic idealists working towards individual and collective progress.
Part of the definition of international education highlights the importance of various cultures and peoples working together to create a sense of cultural awareness. Many articles and blogs have content about traveling, going abroad, and positive lifestyles, and I think that these subjects have a lot to do with international education, study abroad in particular. Although the influence is small, a lot of social media content is encouraging international education by advocating for a globalized world.