Beyond the Bubble: Call Me, Beep Me
"Lauren's mood swings are like a box of chocolates—a gift that you didn’t ask for that will sometimes reward you sweetly but will mostly disappoint you and leave a bad taste in your mouth," most of my friends and close family members said, probably.
I come to you after last week’s column having proven myself correct: being abroad does, in fact, get easier with every passing day. Maybe it’s the friendships I’m forming, maybe it’s the perfect sandwich I discovered, maybe it’s just that I’m one day closer to being back in Hanover. Regardless, I am having an easier go of things. Now that last week's embarrassing confession has been swept under the rug, it’s time to hit you with another one: I am hopelessly addicted to my phone.
Fellow students reading this, you know the drill: I have Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, GroupMe, WhatsApp, an overactive blitz account and a dormant-yet-feminist blog. You know, the essentials. (I also have a finsta for the true homies and Yik Yak for when I’m feeling a little overly confident in my peers.) And for the adults reading this, I don’t give a single shit about what you think about my garbage generation and how our reliance on the virtual world will surely destroy the real one someday. Why don’t you go fix the national debt, Sharon?
Anyway, admitting the depth of my addiction is intended to prove a point: I am inextricably linked to my world back home. Even if I cut out all frivolous apps, my email account still hits me with reminders of Dartmouth every hour on the hour. It is impossible to escape the realities of the world I left behind (and the Argentine Tango Club, I swear this club gets more blitzes than average, and I demand to know why).
On the other hand, at times I am eager for information about what’s going on back home. After all, I left my favorite people on earth in Hanover. I care deeply about their lives and, perhaps more importantly, about making sure they don’t forget that I exist and go on to make new best friends, new inside jokes and new profile pictures without me while I sit on the other side of the ocean crying and stuffing my face with Iberian ham. (Don’t even get me started on American hookups—if anyone finds a way to identify the girl who owns the left knee that showed up in the bottom left corner of the snapstory of my long-distance crush, please let me know so I can find her and murder her, but like not in a crazy way.)
So, the question is, how do I strike a balance? On the one hand, my close relationships are the most precious elements of my life. I need them, they need me and with all the methods of communication that exist, there’s no reason that a supportive friendship should be put on hold. On the other hand, space is essential. It is impossible to enjoy a new country or a new experience if you’re obsessively checking to see what’s going on halfway across the world. It contributes to homesickness, and it turns you into the obnoxious friend who comments on every social media post to remind the world that you still exist. You don’t really "<3 <3 <3" every damn semi picture—you just want attention and you need to take a walk (I am guilty of this, and the new Facebook reaction buttons aren't helping my situation).
Although what has helped is being at the mercy of WiFi hotspots for internet connection. Hear me out—we take for granted our omnipresent 3G connections when we’re home. While it’s possible to purchase long-ass European phone numbers and corresponding data plans, the cheapest option is waiting to stumble across an open hotspot or humbly asking your waiter or barista for the WiFi password. My desperate searching may seem like an indicator of how over-connected I am, but it is in fact the opposite: when out exploring the city or sitting in class with poor service, I am effectively cut off from the rest of the world and forced to fully engage with my surroundings.
I don’t recommend entirely abandoning social media or your friends back home—sometimes you need them to remind you that museums trump midterms, and that a night spent clubbing in Barcelona is infinitely more interesting than five hours of pong and warm Keystone. But keep your distance. It’s impossible to fully immerse yourself in the lives of people back home—so live your own. Come back with better stories. Enjoy the people around you, get to know them and realize that they, too, have become your favorite people while you weren’t paying attention. Allow yourself to float free in the big wide world and accumulate new experiences and discover new places that you never wish to leave, and then allow yourself to return to your safe corner of the universe and share it all with the people you love most.
And don't forget to follow me on Instagram.