Going abroad is an emotional experience. You’re likely going to have total sensory overload with being introduced to an entirely new culture and having a bunch of new experiences on your own. It can be a bit overwhelming. It’s not just overwhelming for you; behind every student that studies abroad, there is an entire support network of people who care about him or her. These people are going to miss you, and will want to stay connected if at all possible. If you’re planning on studying abroad in the middle of the ocean with no cell towers in sight, disregard this. But for the rest of you, read on to find some tips on what it’ll be like to stay in touch with home when you’re thousands of miles away.
Timing is very important when trying to contact your friends and family back home, and it’s probably the first thing you’ll want to think about. Time differences can range from a vague inconvenience to a severe hindrance depending on where you are. In Japan, for example, I had a few hours in the morning and in the evening during which my family would be awake. It took a little while to adjust to the feeling of FaceTiming someone about to start their day while I was dead tired and about to fall asleep, but I eventually got used to the time difference and could judge when would be a bad time to call.
There are no rules about frequency – it’s just something you’ll have to figure out with your own personal situation. I will say this though: don’t try to live your life in two places at once. Constantly being concerned with what’s going on at home can detract from the experiences you’re having right now in the moment. How can you enjoy your host country when you’re always worried that your friends are having adventures without you? Although your family will be worried about you, I guarantee they won’t need to Skype you every single day. A few messages a day are fine, but I wouldn’t recommend being glued to your computer screen for hours a day. I would message my friends and family throughout the day, but only Skype a few times a week or month depending on the person.
Expectation vs. Reality
Let’s be honest: the camera on your phone isn’t movie quality. Neither is your webcam. Your wi-fi won’t always be the best. The picture when you videochat could turn out to be a blob of color on the screen, and it may cut out way too often for your liking. Keeping your expectations low is key to being satisfied with an international video call. When you think about it, it’s amazing we can even contact someone across the world at all. Simply be grateful you can call your loved ones in the first place, and try your best not to throw your phone at a wall when the call drops for the eighth time. Or the tenth. Or the fiftieth. It just means you have more stories to tell when you get home and can actually see their faces!
Overall, contacting people back home is a luxury that we’re lucky to have. Make sure you don’t forget about them, because many of them have supported you emotionally or financially and are curious about how you’re doing! Just make sure you’re rational about your expectations when you call your mom from 5,000 miles away, and it’ll all work out.
Photo courtesy of RH Reality Check.
Zac Jones is junior at the University of Kentucky studying International Studies, Anthropology, and Japanese. Zac participated in the JShIP program at Osaka University during summer 2014.