The Internet Can Offer Additional Intercultural Experiences

To the Editor:

I’d like to respond to “How Facebook Can Ruin Study Abroad” (The Chronicle, January 14). While I also value the more “distant” abroad experiences I had before the Internet was so pervasive, yearning for that past is like wishing for the days before the automobile, when villages were separate communities, and travel was usually for the very rich or for refugees who had little choice but to seek safe haven. This article misses an important truth about the present, which is that many of us have far more choice about where and how we live than we did years ago. And while spending too much time on Facebook may change or dilute the experience of being abroad, we can now much more intensively experience other cultures through similar technologies while we are at home or at school.

Physical immersion can be an important aspect of engagement with other cultures, but it is certainly not the only vector, and may not even be the most important. That is because where we are physically and where our energy is focused psychically are no longer so strongly linked together. Using digital tools as basic as Skype, Google Docs, and e-mail—let alone Facebook, which I rarely use—we can engage colleagues around the world in meaningful and intensive exchanges.

If we would open ourselves to what this makes possible for students linked together in globally networked classrooms, we might begin to re-conceptualize physical study abroad as just one element in a broad spectrum of intercultural experiences which include many formats of online interaction with those around the world. If structured appropriately, such distant engagements could also better prepare our students to take advantage of the time when they are abroad. And given that only 3 percent of American students ever study abroad at all, we owe it to the other 97 percent to develop and deploy models that will enhance their intercultural awareness.

Jon Rubin
Director
Center for Online International Learning
State University of New York
SUNY Global Center
New York

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