World traveler: 10 countries in 10 weeks
Kevin Dupont ’16 receives a national award to study social media abroad
Travelling for 10 weeks through 10 countries on three continents may seem like a dream trip to some, but for Kevin Dupont ’16, it has become a reality. Dupont will be traveling this summer to research how social media influences and responds to social unrest.
At the beginning of this semester, Dupont, an Anthropology and International and Global Studies double major with a minor in Business received the Circumnavigators Club Foundation’s national Circumnavigators Award, a $9,000 grant that allows business students to conduct research abroad on the subjects of their choice. Circumnavigators Club Foundation Scholars travel-study grant is awarded to five students across the U.S. each year. Madeline List ’15 became the first Circumnavigators Club Foundation Scholar at Brandeis last year. List’s research explored international attitudes toward disability.
Dupont is no stranger to international travel. He has traveled independently to the Caribbean, Spain, France, England and Poland.
He also studied abroad in Geneva, Switzerland, last semester, taking classes and interning with a nongovernmental humanitarian aid organization. There he had direct access to the United Nations Office in Geneva.
“I got to go to U.N. meetings and meet with some really interesting people from all over the world, including even a Brandeis professor,” he said.
Dupont’s experience abroad shaped his choice to study how different countries use social media to organize social change. “[Studying abroad] definitely influenced my topic choice, because I used Facebook and Twitter to keep my friends and family updated on what I was doing,” Dupont said. “Then I started thinking if I use it for telling people where I am, then it could be used for so many other things. I started unpacking it all and social media and social unrest is what came up.”
Dupont will depart from Boston in May and visit Brazil, Tunisia, Greece, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Thailand, Singapore, China and Japan before returning in August. He will be comparing his findings in each country to form his thesis for the Circumnavigators Club.
“What I’m really trying to research is what social media can do in society. Even though the everyday person may think that one tweet or one Facebook post is really nothing or has no complications, that isn’t always true,” Dupont said.
Although social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook exist on the Internet, Dupont wants to explore the root causes of social unrest by talking to people across the world about their involvement in and reaction to different social media movements.
“You can make an assumption from a computer, but you can’t make an assumption from actually being there and having the tangible evidence of someone’s words or someone’s actions,” Dupont said.
He chose each country on his itinerary based on its current or past involvement in social media-based social change. “I’m kind of going location-specific with every place I go. So, Brazil will be more of how social media affected the less fortunate. There’s a pretty large equality gap there,” Dupont explained. “I will be trying to talk to people on the ground to see what made them protest and rebel against the government.”
Dupont applied for the Circumnavigators Award at the recommendation of his former Business Anthropology professor, Mrinalini Tankha Ph.D. ’13, who serves as the faculty liaison for the foundation’s award. Dupont submitted his proposal to a board of three Brandeis Faculty members and was notified in December that he had received the award.
In the months leading up to his trip, Dupont has been researching his destination countries. He has planned out his itinerary and is working on making contacts in each country.
The professors at the International Business School are helping Dupont make contacts in several countries, he said.
Dupont is most looking forward to exploring new regions of the world. He is especially excited to visit Thailand and Hong Kong. “Southeast Asia I don’t know much about in terms of what the culture is like, what the food is like. That’s really interesting, that it’s an unknown,” Dupont said.
He understands, though, that he may face challenges during his long trip.
He feels that one of the most difficult aspects of the trip will be making meaningful connections despite language barriers.
“I’m traveling alone for two-and-a-half months across the globe to countries where I don’t speak the language,” he explained.
He also anticipates challenges will arise during his work in the field. “I’m expecting things to be a little tough with my research. I don’t expect every day to be finding a new discovery. I expect some days to be quieter than others,” Dupont said.
However, Dupont remains optimistic about his research. He believes that it is essential to research how social media is currently affecting the world. He stresses the importance of keeping up with the fast pace at which social media is evolving.
“Social media is being used differently now. And that’s why I think it’s something that should be researched right now, while it’s still being used, instead of after, when it wouldn’t mean the same,” Dupont said.
Dupont hopes that his research will benefit the Brandeis community by providing students with more information on how social media may be used.
Since most Brandeis students use social media, Dupont said that he is interested in seeing how his peers will react to the way social media is being utilized across the world.
As for Dupont’s personal social media use, he plans on cataloguing his experiences on a blog so that he may share his thoughts and findings in real time.
He used a video blog to update his friends and family while he was studying abroad in Switzerland, but he wants to try a new outlet.
“I might actually do my own personal blog instead of a video blog just because I feel it’s a lot easier to write things out than to speak them,” Dupont mused.