Social media becomes an imperative tool

With the school year starting again, most students are leaving home and traveling long distances to reach Los Angeles and USC. But for students who make up the university’s ever-growing international population, that distance is far greater, making it even more difficult to stay in touch with family and friends.

Worldwide · Social networking tools like facebook allow students, parents and friends from around the globe to stay interconnected. - Photo illustration by Carlo Acenas

In today’s world, however, keeping in contact with friends is a lot easier thanks to the Internet. Instead of dealing with calling and long distance rates or waiting multiple days via snail mail, students use social media. It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s far cheaper than once-traditional methods.

Blogs, social networking sites and video chat programs can give instant updates on life at college and at home.

Batuhan Akdeniz, a junior industrial and systems engineering major from Istanbul, Turkey, said social media helps him stay aware of current events in his home country, even when he is thousands of miles away.

“[My friends and I] usually talk about the soccer game results and when someone shares a funny video or something important that is happening in Turkey,” he said. “It is weird that we learn [news] before even some people in Turkey.”

There are problems, however, when it comes to using social media. Although college students are more than skilled with tools like Facebook or Skype, that does not mean others, especially older family members, are as adept.

Emilie Mateu, a junior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism, has struggled with technical difficulties.

“My whole dad’s side is from France and they are all still over there,” Mateu said. “They are from a really small, old fashioned town and being from a much older generation, my grandparents aren’t familiar with computers, Skype, Facebook, etcetera.”

But even with technology knowledge gaps, social media still makes communication easier, and for many students, can help them share their lives at college as it happens.

“[My family and I] used to talk to them about once a week by phone but a computer has completely changed the way we keep in touch — which has been great for them,” Mateu said. “They can kind of get a glimpse of the parts of our lives that they aren’t here for.”

Aside from international-based students, there are also a handful of students that study abroad and encounter similar problems. Melinda Amato, a senior studying sociology, is spending the fall semester in Chile. She had to work with her friends and family to set up communication before she left, and is using more than just chat programs to share her

“My grandmother does not have a computer but she goes over to my aunt’s house so she can Skype me from there,” she said. “My friends and I set specific times to Skype in advance. I also keep a blog so that I can have all my stories and pictures in one place for my friends and family.”

Not all students come from countries where familiar Western social media sites are available, and even if they are, they might be heavily censored by the country’s government, or blocked altogether.

Youli Zheng, a junior majoring in communication, has to deal with such censorship to talk to her family in China.

“Most social media sites in the States — Facebook and Twitter — are blocked in China,” Zheng said. “I usually just use Chinese version of these sites to follow what my friends back home have been doing.”

Of course, busy class schedules and time zone differences can make reaching out to people overseas difficult, but not impossible. For some, like Mateu, the difference isn’t so big as to limit the amount of time they can talk with friends, but for others it can cause some problems.

Akdeniz found himself somewhat limited thanks to the time zone.

“I video chat with my family once a week because of the time difference, which is 10 hours,” Akdeniz said. “It is mostly in the mornings or very late at night.”

Using social media is not the same as being in a room, interacting face-to-face with a friend or family member, but it is close. And the tools involved to chat with people around the world are getting easier to use, which is good news for USC students and families alike.