When Social Support Fits into Your Luggage: Online Support Seeking and Its Effects on the Traditional Study Abroad ExperienceReport as inadecuate

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Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, v21 p17-40 Fall 2011

Dubbed the Net Generation, modern university students have grown up not only with advanced communication technologies at their disposal, but using such technologies to both maintain and create social networks of support. In a study abroad context, the maintenance of dual on- and offline personas provides students with the opportunity to demolish communication barriers with the home culture created by geographic distance. Conversely, online communication may help bring down communication barriers created by linguistic and cultural differences, providing students with exciting opportunities for face-to-face social interaction with host nationals. Yet, very little is known about how students are using the Internet in the development or maintenance of social support networks during study abroad. This research project aims to understand how Internet mediated support complements, supplements or supplants traditional support seeking and how online support seeking leads to changes in the traditional study abroad experience. In this study the author presents relevant literature on the subjects of acculturative stress, social coping, and Internet mediated social support in order to ground the research question and study findings. Data collected from in-depth focus group interviews with 21 American students studying abroad in Germany suggests that students are using the Internet to: (1) access emotional and embedded support to facilitate the transition into the new culture; (2) quickly and efficiently establish daily routines in the target culture; and (3) fulfill professional and social obligations back in the United States while abroad. Nevertheless, the results indicate that students are still suffering from acculturative stress, and suggest the possibility that the Internet may risk transforming the traditional notion of cultural exploration, into one of cultural consumerism. Implications for students and short-term migrants in general are largely positive. Focus group interview data demonstrated that the Internet is an effective way of seeking out emotional support from the home country that can help migrants to navigate a difficult transition abroad. Often students were able to find important information online in their native language, and where such information was not available in English, students were able to find resources to help them interpret the target language either completely such as with programs like Google Translate, or in part through online dictionaries. Support seeking online was not limited to providing a link to the home culture and language, however. Through the Internet, students were able to find inlets into the target culture, and form relationships with host nationals, as well.

Descriptors: Interpersonal Relationship, Cultural Differences, Maintenance, Foreign Countries, Internet, Social Support Groups, Social Networks, Interviews, College Students, Second Languages, Intercultural Communication, Acculturation, Stress Variables, Coping, Focus Groups, North Americans, Cultural Awareness, Migrants, Native Language, Information Sources, Information Technology

Frontiers Journal. Dickinson College P.O. Box 1773, Carlisle, PA 17013. Tel: 717-254-8858; Fax: 717-245-1677; Web site: http://www.frontiersjournal.com

Author: Mikal, Jude P.

Source: https://eric.ed.gov/?q=a&ft=on&ff1=dtySince_1992&pg=4494&id=EJ991041

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