This is an expert from Margaret Wright’s blog. Although she studied abroad in Dublin, her lesson comes from her time in Spain.
Technology is an amazing thing. It’s so powerful, and has the ability to connect in so many ways. But strangely enough, I’ve found it also has the power to disconnect. Let me explain.
From my experience, I’ve always noticed that when I put the camera (or in my case, iPhone camera) away, so that I can experience a location – that is, breathe in, breathe out the place and enjoy it to its fullest – it makes so much more of a difference. I often times find myself so consumed with taking pictures, trying to remember all of this that I’m seeing because it’s all so amazing! But I also need to remember to put it down, and really connect with the place. It’s hard to do sometimes, but it’s so worth it!
I also connect with a place by utilising all five of my senses. Breathe in, breathe out. What am I feeling – on my face, fingertips, feet? What am I touching? What do I smell? Taste? Hear? See? I try to pause to ask myself these questions whenever I see something beautiful, or am at a location or experience I really want to remember. I give myself a little time to take pictures, but then I want to feel the wind in my hair, hear the water or the scent of local coffee on the street in that moment. It’s not a moment a picture can capture.
Then there’s something else I’ve been noticing – not the connection between traveller and camera, but between the traveller and a physically distant person. I spent a few nights with a friend who was studying in Sevilla, Spain. She was living with a host family and had two other international students living with her. The difference between those two girls was ginormous. The first – let’s call her Rachel – had invested everything in her time in Spain. Sure, she used her phone, but she put it away at the dinner table, and used it mostly for goodbye-selfies with her Spanish friends. The other girl, let’s call her Sarah, was constantly on her computer or phone, communicating with someone from home – Skyping, Facetime-ing, voice messaging, text messaging… it was as if the conversation between those physically absent from her presence where taking priority over the potential conversation between those in front of her.
Because I stayed at the end of their programme, I got to see the how the girls felt about leaving. Rachel was torn up – she didn’t want to leave and was crying for a while on her last night. She told me she would “move to Sevilla in a heartbeat”. Sarah expressed that she couldn’t wait to get home, telling us about all the things she was excited to see and do once she got back. It was as if she had never really left her home.
My theory is that Rachel had experienced Sevilla to its fullest because she had fully invested herself and her time in the culture, people, and country. She had experienced love in the country, and love makes leaving hard. Sarah, on the other hand, experienced love at home and wasn’t ready to let go of that to experience something else in a foreign place fully. It came as no surprise to me to find that Rachel’s Spanish was much better than Sarah’s – Rachel talked with her host mom and everyone at the dinner table in Spanish. She spoke English too, but it was a lot less than Sarah, who seemed to be using English much more than Spanish.
Technology brought Sarah close to those back home, but distanced her from the people right in front of her. Rachel limited her technology use so she was able to keep in touch with those far away, so that she was able to grow close to those nearby. This is a lesson for me – I want what Rachel had, and I realise now that technology can get in the way of that.
by Margaret Wright, class of ’17