Hi Everyone…so…we all live with a digital Swiss Army knife attached to us all day long, don’t we? At least, the majority of us do.
These devices have become a little like that movie where someone is learning to use a new tool and their ‘Master Teacher’ tells them to, “think of it as an extension of your arm. It’s a part of who you are”. There’s no doubt at all that these things have become a part of who we are…
…we sleep with these things next to us, they wake us up in the morning, help us document our lives, entertain us, present us with reminders, help us connect with others, tell us how many steps(!) we’ve taken today and help us stay connected with family and friends-among many other wonderful things.
That said, they also have the power to disconnect us from what is happening around us, can lead to addictive behaviour, and many studies have shown that being constantly connected to the digital world can have an adverse negative effect on our mental health and ability to communicate meaningfully with others in the real world.
Our big question is: What electronic devices can help us capture and fully embrace the best moments during our time together?
Dragons as an organization has a blanket policy that strongly requests all students leave smartphones, etc. at home.
‘Aha…but…erm…this is different! I’m away for a year and I’ll need my phone!’, I hear you say.
No doubt, you will need your phone at some point but do you need it all the time? With that in mind we’d like to introduce our phone and electronics policy for the first 4 weeks of the program. In short, we’ve found phones detract from the experience and can create risk management issues for the group. Please carefully read and consider what Dragons has written about smartphones (this should be in your student information packs).
Here is what you need to know about the first 4 weeks.
We want to challenge you to take a Phone Fast, or more specifically, a ‘Wifi and Data Fast’ for this period of time. It is amazing how dependent we’ve all become on technology, and our initial time in Senegal might provide one of the few opportunities for you to “unplug” from the pressures of constant social media/electronic connection. It is a truly liberating feeling if you haven’t tried it, or don’t remember the last time you didn’t have a phone at arm’s reach.
Furthermore, you will be provided with a “dumb phone” and Senegalese SIM upon our arrival in Dakar, and we strongly encourage each of you to plan on using this dumb phone as your primary phone while in Senegal – for staying in touch with each other, BYP staff, homestay families, service sites,etc etc. There are times and places that you might want to pull out your iPhone … and those times and places don’t include on the street in Yoff, on the bus or other public transport, etc etc. Please be aware that students have had iPhones stolen in Dakar in the past, and it can happen again.
At the end of every Dragons program, we have asked our students what the most liberating thing was for them. It’s amazing how many students remark that being completely unplugged for the duration of the program was a hugely positive experience for them.
For many of you (growing up in the digital age) you’ve always had phones and screens in front of you. We fully understand that. We’re not opposed to technology at all, but we know through our combined experiences as educators that you will gain SO MUCH more from Senegal if you’re not always plugged in.
These are not the same, “technology is corrupting our youth” judgmental pieces you’ve seen before, but have some really thoughtful insights on how technology can most affect our ability to be alone and the cost/benefit of being constantly connected.
We expect you all to bring phones with you, and we are not expressly “prohibiting” them. However, if you do bring a smartphone/mp3 player, we will let you know when and if they are appropriate to use. We will go over this in detail during our orientation to the program,.
As a group what we do not what to do is to enter a home-stay, pop in our ear buds, and tune out of the experience around us. We’ve seen electronic devices completely tear students away from their present surroundings, increase home-sickness, and keep one foot in Senegal and one foot longing for their Snapchat or Instagram feed happening back home.
Even our longest and most arduous travel days, precisely when it’s most tempting to put our headphones on, can hold some of the most amazing and unexpected cultural interactions; however, we need to keep our eyes and ears open (i.e., not looking at a screen or listening to music) to engage those unplanned moments.
While we will have expectations around smart phones and electronics we also realise that these tools can be amazingly helpful and useful and can be used to aid your understanding of where you are, when used wisely. We will go over all of this once we meet as a full group.
We’re all so excited to meet you all and begin our journey together.
Berta, Babacar, and Angelica