March 8, 2018

Tourism expert: Students should power down phones, explore the world around them during spring break

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Students at colleges across the country are planning study-abroad trips worldwide as spring break approaches. Those opportunities to experience new countries and learn in different settings offer much more than scholarship and extra credit, says a Purdue University tourism expert.

Sandra Sydnor, a professor in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, is researching the impact of studying abroad on students’ mental health, which, she says, has been compromised like never before due in part to the daily barrage of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, causing fear, anxiety and depression.

“I’ve had students approach me in the middle of a semester who are finding it really difficult to cope,” says Sydnor, a member of the Purdue Tourism and Hospitality Research Center. “I happened to be involved with the study abroad program at the time, so I put the two together.’

Although simply participating in a study-abroad trip or being hyper-aware of experiences taking place at that moment isn’t enough to achieve what Sydnor calls “mindfulness,” traveling puts students in environments where they are more likely to disconnect and introspect. 

“Taking them out of their locale and placing them in an unfamiliar setting where they’re likely to encounter monuments and historical sites doesn’t, by itself, increase mindfulness,” she says. “But study abroad trips create environments where students are able to recharge and reset in preparation for what’s waiting for them when they return just one week later.”

Overall, “wellness tourism” has boomed over the past decade as more and more people feel the need to power down and explore the world around them, Sydnor says.

“When you introduce the element of mindfulness, you think of things like wellness tourism: spas, yoga retreats and backpacking and hiking trips,” she says. “That whole industry has blossomed to be a half-trillion-dollar market.”

Students who aren’t planning a trip should use spring break as an opportunity to break away from their devices and daily routines to enjoy a week of relaxation.

“They’re so hyper-connected and busy with clubs and their studies. When making that adjustment from living at home underneath their parents’ roof to becoming an adult and discovering who they are, those resets are so critical to their well-being,” she says. “How often have you seen students dining at the same table, but each is on their own phone? Students will benefit from a focus on being present and aware of where they are right now.” 

Writer: Joseph Paul, 765-494-9541, paul102@purdue.edu  

Source: Sandra Sydnor, 765-494-3449, ssydnorb@purdue.edu

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