(Walt Disney built a whole empire out of selling dreams- photo by:yournaperville.com)
Have you ever booked a trip somewhere based off of a picture you saw, a story you read, or a TV show that featured the location? If so, then you bought into a dream. Don’t panic- we all do this (even me). The selling and buying of dreams is critical to almost every industry, especially travel. For example, who would book a trip to Jamaica between June and December if you knew that it was their rainy season? The fantasy of a vacation in Jamaica is relaxing on the beautiful, warm, sunny beach and playing in the clear blue water. If you knew that there was a strong possibility of sitting in your hotel the entire time looking out at dark storm clouds and flash flood rain that lasts for days, you wouldn’t be so excited to go there during those months.
Why do people love buying fantasy?
When we’re down or not doing anything exciting, we dream for excitement. And what’s better than a dream? Nothing! The selling of dreams is a brilliant marketing campaign that works really well forbeverything. It works because it removes us from the mundaneness that can be everyday life and makes us feel how we wish to feel or be who we wish to be without doing much work. However, if you’re not careful, it can also disappoint if you really buy into it.
So how does studying abroad fit into all this?
The study abroad experience is sold as the ultimate dream trip to college students. The academic portion of it is often pushed out of this dream sequence. I have never come across a study abroad program website which features images of students studying or in a classroom as part of their marketing for study abroad. It’s always the students with recognizable sights/monuments, smiling and having a good time. If you come across a study abroad program that doesn’t market the dreamy travel aspect of studying abroad, please tweet it to me @twentyinparis. Anyhoo, it’s no surprise that as a result of this clever marketing campaign, many students go abroad with unrealistic expectations of the experience. Just like the travel website who wants people to book trips to Jamaica during rainy season, the difficulties of the study abroad experience aren’t advertised. As a result, students are shocked and often disappointed that they are treated as a foreigner, not understood when they speak the host language, don’t have stellar grades in classes abroad, have trouble making friends with natives and/or don’t get along with their host family.
Does the selling of reality for study abroad make it more desirable?
I’m no marketer or psychologist but I think that reality sells because of two things: 1) It makes us feel better about our situation/ ourselves; 2) It is human nature to seek out truth (that’s the whole goal of philosophy). We know that studying abroad is sold as a dream trip for students but it’s not. Students like you are searching for the truth behind the light-hearted memes about partying and traveling abroad. It’s not to say that studying abroad isn’t an overall great experience. It is. But you know that it comes with its fair share of bad days and hardships. You’re looking for someone to show you the experience uncensored with all its ups and downs. The trend is growing to show the not so pretty parts of the study abroad experience but we are still in the shadows for the most part. Every time I come across a blog/article that shares candid, uncensored experiences about studying abroad, I bring them to you here. And they are some of Twenty in Paris’ most popular posts. What this shows me is that you are not deterred by the truth but rather motivated by it.
What do we do now?
We keep talking about it and asking others to share their study abroad experiences- all of it. Ask your study abroad office to tell you the difficulties you can expect to face with cultural and linguistic immersion, going to class abroad, interactions with your host family. Don’t settle for “every student is different.” Keep imploring for examples of others snafus abroad to better prepare yourself. By finding out the reality of living and studying abroad, you can often eliminate and alleviate a lot of uncomfortable situations. Let’s continue the quest to show the study abroad experience- Uncovered. Uncensored. Unapologetic.