Staying in Touch
Connecting across continents and time zones can be tricky, and you may be used to frequent or even daily contact with your loved ones. Before you go abroad, it's a good idea to think about how you will communicate – and how often. It is important to stay in touch but not to the extent that it interferes with your experience abroad. You may need to separate yourself a bit from your home support networks as you build a local one.
Be prepared for less frequent communication. You will be experiencing, exploring, and seeking an opportunity for intercultural engagement. It will be helpful to find an appropriate balance of communication so that you can stay in touch with home but be in touch with the host culture as well. There are many resources (some available for free) to help you stay connected to home during your study abroad program. The best method will depend on you, your loved ones, and the country where you will be studying.
Communication should be easy if you have access to email. At the same time, understand that access to email overseas is not always as readily available as it is in the U.S.
It is highly encouraged that you have a working cell phone while you're abroad. You may also use this cell phone to contact your loved ones at home. Be sure to contact your phone provider prior to departure if you're taking your U.S. cell phone with you. Many phone providers offer special services that, for a small monthly fee, can cut the cost of your calls and texts considerably. Another option is to purchase a calling card with reduced rates for the country in which you will be studying.
Skype is a free, downloadable software application that allows users to make live video and voice calls over the internet. Skype users can also add money to their account to use the service to call land lines and cell phones internationally at very low rates. If two users both have web-enabled video cameras for their computers, they will be able to chat face-to-face. For users without a web cam, a microphone is all that's required for calls to another computer. Other similar messenger software products to explore are Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, and FaceTime (for Apple users).
Even if you are regularly in contact via phone or internet, consider sending mail. Your connections back home often appreciate receiving letters or postcards because it assures them that you are being successful and doing well. If you think that you would like to receive mail from home, care packages can be fantastic; however, international shipping costs can be very steep and all international mail (even postcards) might take several weeks to arrive. This information is important to keep in mind if you or your loved ones are on a budget or if you are participating in a short-term program.