Embarking on my study abroad journey, I knew that social media would play a vital role in not only me sharing my experiences with my friends and family, but also in creating an online digital identity for myself. I have built my personal online identity by the 2 principle concepts: action and interaction. The actions I have taken are posting my content, and I interact with other people such as my followers and my friends, as well as other digital influencers who I watch videos of. Social media is a very interesting concept, because it can portray your life in any way to strangers you’ve never met or people you barely speak to. It allows your viewers to be connected with you as you experience the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of life. On the contrary, there are benefits and downfalls to sharing your life with people via the internet. However, I use a lot of social media platforms on the daily and I knew when I went abroad that would not change.
The major platforms I used were Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. These platforms allowed me to connect my viewers to real life situations, places I’ve traveled to, and my subconscious thoughts. Snapchat, which allows you to record brief videos of where you are and send them to close friends and relatives, was something I did on the daily. I would keep up streaks, which was a feature to Snapchat, where you would create a streak if you consecutively snapchatted the same people every day. On top of that, a handful of my followers and viewers looked forward to my daily check-ins and updates about where I was in the world and what I was experiencing on a day to day basis. I loved that I could build a sense of connection with people who were also abroad like myself, as well as share and trade stories about our experiences. Social media also allowed me to keep in touch and be updated on my friends who were at my home university, my family in different parts of the United States, as well as my international friends.
Instagram had a similar function to Snapchat, but it also gave me a platform to showcase my photography skills and create my digital identity. Just like Snapchat, Instagram allowed me to record videos, but it also allowed me to take and post photos of the places I’ve traveled to and capture moments that changed my life forever. I created a narrative of my study abroad experience, by posting photos from my trips and activities, but also posting highlights of the places I have travelled to so that anyone can look back and view them. I am a lover and student of photography so capturing all the joys of my abroad experience was important to me, so that in the future I could look back and reflect on the things I accomplished and did while I was abroad. When you post these photos, anyone of your followers has the option to like and comment on the photo, which can really boost your self esteem. There were a lot of photos I took while abroad that really captured the essence of my happiness as well as my downfalls. One post in particular that was extremely popular was my Paris trip with my boyfriend for Valentine’s Day. The pictures taken and the videos recorded while we were there really gave my viewers a look into my personal and private love life. It was already Valentine’s Day weekend where couples posted how much their significant other meant to them, so showing my viewers how romantic my weekend was really created a romantic aspect of my identity as well. I was thousands of miles away from my home, family and friends, but they still connected with me on this level because the idea and concept of love was highly relatable.
However, posting your happiness all over the Internet can create enemies because seeing the exciting activities that other people do via social media, makes it extremely easy to compare your life to other people’s lives. This can cause people to feel resentment towards you due to jealousy, insecurity, and the fear of missing out. I lost a handful of friends who used to be the closest people to me, however, they could not stop comparing their lives to mine. They would be so worried about what I was doing and wishing they could be doing the same, they made themselves miserable because they depended on me for happiness instead of creating their own. It is almost too easy to get lost in the lives of other people because you start to question your own life and actions and overthink if what you are doing is good enough compared to the people you see on your newsfeed, Instagram/Snapchat/Twitter feed, timeline etc.
But, on the other hand, Instagram was also a way for me to explain the negative parts about studying abroad in a judgment free way. On Instagram, you have the option of making multiple accounts and can control who follows you and who is informed on your personal agendas. This is called a “finsta” account aka “fake instagram”. I only allowed my closest friends to follow this account because I showed the uncut and raw version of myself and showed my extreme vulnerability. Through my vulnerability, I was able to express myself to people who I trusted without feeling shame or insecurity. With finsta, it also eliminates all the stereotypes, expectations and standards of what we call, Rinsta, aka real-Instagram. Finsta gives us a platform to talk shit, make fun ourselves, our lives, and vent to our closest friends all in a comical manner and in our own creative way.
Nevertheless, as I said earlier, Social media makes it extremely easy to compare your life to other people’s and to feel like you are missing out on things. Not only that, but also with Social media you grant people access to certain aspects of your life who do not necessarily care or appreciate the events. Also, when you portray a certain image or narrative on your social media page, people get fixated on that one specific image or occasion, and ignore everything else. What you see is not necessarily all that there is, and nobody knows the full extremity until they ask. Because of the lack of appreciation and care as well as assumptions made about what I posted during my abroad experience, I had to take multiple breaks from social media to clear my head. It was quite refreshing because I also realized that I depended on social media far too much for entertainment, that I did not pay attention to other things going on in my life. I logged out of my Instagram and Snapchat accounts for one week, and when I did click on the app, I never logged back in. It was repulsive in a way because I found myself clicking on the app about 3 or 4 times within half an hour. This social media break also made me realize that I do not always have to be updated on other people’s lives because I have my own life to worry about, care for and focus on.