ONLINE SUPPORT FOR JAPANESE STUDENTS STUDYING ABROAD: A VIRTUAL UMBILICAL CORD
This paper looks at eight study abroad students from Japan and their use of the Internet to receive emotional support from home. The research was longitudinal and data was collected via six interviews per participant spread over a period of approximately two years. The setting was a private tertiary college in a provincial city in New Zealand. Previous research in the literature indicates that due to the Internet’s influence, study abroad can no longer be considered a time of true separation from family nor friends nor culture. The current research reveals that seeking emotional support via online social media occurs predominantly in the initial stages of a study abroad when students feel most vulnerable. The study also shows that the Internet can be a double-edged sword in a study abroad context. Although it can assist students in settling in, it can also inhibit their independence and, ironically, induce homesickness. The Internet can undoubtedly play an important role in study abroad students’ emotional wellbeing, enabling them to receive support from afar, but it can also distract from them fully experiencing their time overseas.