Do it for the ‘gram

Lost in Translation

There comes a point in every international student’s freshman semester when they have to make an overwhelmingly difficult decision — to post or not to post?

After the initial radio silence on social media as you focus on fitting in, figuring out an academic schedule and life without your parents, your first “comeback” post on Instagram automatically gains a ridiculous amount of significance. Technically, it would be your first post from college — the first post that would offer insight into your life here to your legion of eager followers there. The first post that people back home would judge you by. The first post meant to announce your level of happiness to the rest of the world because really, the whole point of  Instagram is to indulge in a little game of superficial show and tell.

This is what I was thinking about as I sat in my lecture hall, listening (but not really) to my professor trying to make complex concepts approachable to lost little freshmen. I idly flipped through my gallery, initiating my screening process to determine which picture could be a potential post and which couldn’t. I had 45 minutes of lecture left — might as well do something productive.

I had to be methodical about this. First, I scrolled through my gallery, making a mental note of what major life events my potential post could be about. Options included (but were not limited to) a frat party, house party, frat party, memorial glade, frat party, SF for the first time, a visit to the Campanile or SF for the second time. Ugh, the burden of choice. At this point, I was already considering a basic sunset-over-the-Campanile scenic picture. But I didn’t really want to infringe on the official UC Berkeley Instagram page’s MO.

Next, I began the elimination process. I glanced at the blackboard to see if I was missing something important (I was) and then turned my attention back to the tiny screen that controls my life. I flipped through my digital gallery, one photograph at a time, adding a chosen few to my Favorites. Some were good as they were — some would need a bit of editing to make them worthy of my feed. After this elimination process, I would choose a photo depending on the kind of aesthetic I wanted my first post to embody.

In my bioengineering class, they taught us to make a selection matrix to decide what criteria we valued above others. Since this was obviously a life-altering decision, I started making a matrix for my Instagram post in my head.

First off, I’m not just in college — I’m in a whole new country. I’d have to showcase that. So, plus one for pictures with some exotic backdrop. But, minus one for anything that emphasized UC Berkeley being a public university because I don’t want my Ivy League followers to sneer at me. Plus one for the golden hour, California glowin’ photographs, because I want the people freezing in the East Coast to feel pangs of jealousy. Any kind of picture reppin’ UC Berkeley was a hard plus one (this would include game-day outfits, flag-waving pictures, UC Berkeley hoodies, etc.) but this would have to take into account whether people had already posted enough of these pictures for them to be now classified as “basic.”

Now, for the people.

Plus one for all pictures featuring at least two people who weren’t Indian (actual friendship with the person in the picture was no concern) but minus one for pictures with people that I knew from back home. I definitely had to show my followers the number of exotic strangers that I had formed everlasting friendships with. There were enough of them on my feed already. Indians living in the U.S. could be tolerated only if I was posting a video in which their accents would be clearly audible. How else would my followers understand that I was making all these new friends and thriving socially? And also — because I’m a fucking party girl – bonus points for blurry, drunk/high pictures. Plus one for every bottle of alcohol, red solo cup or half-smoked joint visible in the frame.

Ahh, my selection matrix was complete. I should really be the poster child for transferable skills.

Now, all I had to do was rank my options — thank God for the multiple posts feature on Instagram —  pick Aden, Valencia or #NoFilter and try “beary” hard not to make a bear pun in my caption (hehehe).

And there you go! I would have successfully proved to every single one of my Instagram followers that I was indeed having a wild time, with minimal effort, pretending like I didn’t just meticulously plan this post and ignore my lecture, subjecting myself to the possibility of failing (or at the very least spending hours before a final trying to even pronounce the vocabulary covered in the lecture). But hey, at least my online avatar isn’t a failure!

I know what you’re thinking — wow, she’s so extra. While I don’t debate that, I’m using it to my advantage to make a very important point.

When it becomes more important to show that you’re doing fine, rather than evaluating whether you actually are, you need to take a step back. If the double-taps on your college photographs are your source of validation, you need to take a step back. If the only Memories that you ever make are the ones stored in your Snapchat account – you need to talk a step back.

Anusha Subramanian writes the Thursday blog on being an international student. Contact her at [email protected] .