As a member of American, white, upper-middle class privileged society, I have engaged in many trips of what we call “voluntourism” – short-term opportunities where I paid to volunteer in a developing country or with disadvantaged communities overseas. I took pride in how I chose to spend my school breaks, how I challenged myself to immerse in and understand a culture not my own. In order to remember the people I worked with and the relationships I built, I naturally took pictures on my I-phone and of course, I posted them to Facebook.
I recently read #InstagrammingAfrica: The Narcissism of Global Volunteerism and it made me look at these pictures on Facebook a little differently. I now saw myself purposefully posed in the center of a group of people, that I wouldn’t see or talk to again. I thought about the language barrier and the structured timeframe to get to know one another – how much change did I bring to this community. As I went back to my trendy classes, college parties, and JCrew outlets, was the trip really “life changing” for me? I couldn’t help thinking after posting these pictures on my Facebook and receiving many “likes” and comments with words of admiration, was I narcissistic? A fraud? Did I simply go on the trip for a picture and for all of the “likes” I would receive after it I made it my default?
Okay, maybe each experience wasn’t as life changing as my pictures pronounced and the poses in the picture were intentional, but these relationships, although fleeting, did form! And even if I didn’t enable permanent change within these communities, I still exposed them to other ways of life and broadened their knowledge. What I most disagree with from the article is the assumption that by posting these pictures on Facebook, I am narcissistic just looking for attention and admiration.
While my pictures may not represent all aspects of my experience, my posed pictures still captured a moment of reality and they reveal a lot about my character, my interests, and what I can offer to the world. To a friend, I have interesting and have unique stories to add to any dinner conversation. To my family, I am brave, curious, and someone my grandma can brag about to her friends at her weekly bridge game. To a future employer who will no doubt Google search my name before an interview, I am someone who steps out of her comfort zone, who is sensitive to others and willing to learn, who is adaptable and can offer a unique perspective to any brainstorming session.
The pictures we post on Facebook and Instagram are out there for the world to see and we wouldn’t post them if they didn’t reflect who we are or at least who we want to be.
So friends, family, colleagues, future employers – check out my pictures, check out my story, check out who I am and get a preview of the person I’m on my way to becoming.