Take your country with you: social networking abroad

I was an exchange student in 1988/89 and came to a very homogenic culture, DesMoines (Iowa) in Midwestern USA – and you can see I sported a hairdo that proves it.

I guess it was fashion at the time

I guess it was fashion at the time

Naturally, nobody there spoke German or had even heard of a difference between West- and East Germany. Long distance telephone calls were very expensive and email, IM, facebook or Skype were still in the far future. That made communicating with family and friends, generally staying in touch with your cultural background quite costly and cumbersome.

But at the same time it forced me to understand the local culture and integrate into the new surroundings and peer groups quickly. Which isn’t a bad thing at all, you learn how crusing up and down Main Street is way cool and that Breakfast Club is more or less a documentary (only with better lines) –  it allows you to truly understand the second culture you are visiting.

Today, young Germans staying abroad can basically get by without this immersion and adaptation. This to me seems is largely due to non-English social networking systems like the German StudiVZ.  I have noticed this phenomenon through our German Au Pair girl staying with us. Her amount of media time spent with German-only social networking, chatting and Skyping is simply staggering. The same goes for all the young Germans she knows here in Sydney. 

My Studi VZ profile

Due to the dominance of facebook-clone “StudiVZ“, most young Germans have become initiated into social networking in their mother tongue. And when German youngsters arrive here in Australia they stick to their favourite social network. I am assuming Japanese youngsters in OZ might hop onto Mixi (for all non-Japanese a decription here), Koreans check CyWorld and holders of UAE passport (Emiratians?) top everyone in their social networking readiness anyhow. It influences how they all make new contacts Down Under, organize their private life and chat on a daily basis. It makes the Germans stay in a little Deutschland-bubble. As an example, wouldn’t you find it odd how someone living in Sydney for 10 months would not have heard that New Zealanders are called Kiwis? 

Where I am, there is Germany. I carry my German culture in me.” said Thomas Mann to journalists in 1938 when starting his exile in the USA. I think social networking does so many positive things but weirdly enough when used as an achor to the mothership (as in this facebook/StudiVZ case), it also leads to a lack of cultural understanding and integration into a foreign host country. I am not proposing getting rid of those network ties when travelling and heading straight into a complete Anglosphere, but a little bit of a cross-over between the networks would be advantageous. Maybe after facebook and StudiVZ have stopped bickering in court, a purchase/merger will provide a cross-network user experience?

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5 responses to “Take your country with you: social networking abroad

  1. Hi Tim,

    Emilie from Des Moines (well, now it is San Diego, CA–USA, but i knew you from D.M.)!

    I find this interesting! After having spent time overseas myself (in a MUCH different situation) I see your point.

    Though we cannot erase technology, nor would we want to,
    it is an interesting concept.

    TRAVELING to a foreign country
    but not being forced to leave the comforts of the homeland (at least socially and emotionally).

    Makes you wonder if the person realizes how much they are shortchanging themselves the immersion experience.

    Talk to them about their experience, 10-20 years later–and we know why they say, “youth is wasted on the young & hind-sight is 20/20.”

  2. Shit, Tim. Is this pic…like….you?

  3. Wow, Tim. Just wow. That hair just blows me away. Tim Büsing, Iowa hair farmer.

  4. Ok, I’ve gotten the shock of that photo and just read your very insightful post. Any chance I can get you to do some kind of op-ed piece on that for the website?

  5. Thank you, the comments on facebook have been equally marked by shock and amazement, regarding the hair of course! I should always intro my posts with ridiculous fashion disasters (now where is the pic of when I dyed my hair white…?).
    @Emily regarding your comment, from my own experience I can find it only unfortunate if people don’t immerse themselves completely in a new country. But I can understand when people feel comfortable walking on an easy middle-ground, and after all it took some guts to start living somewhere outside your home country and mother tongue.
    And @Marc, I’d love to elaborate for your site, even if it means not re-posting the “hair farmer” picture (Iowa – The Mullet State).

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