Kara is currently studying overseas at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Here are some of her tips on how to keep in touch with home while overseas.
One of my biggest concerns when I was preparing for exchange was keeping in touch with family and friends back in Australia. The good thing is that everyone back at home understands just how busy and hectic studying abroad can be, especially at the beginning of the experience.
For the first several weeks I was attending orientation sessions, getting into a routine with classes, familiarizing myself with the town and making friends. This made it very challenging to find time to talk to people back at home. As a result, I felt homesick and upset that I could not talk to anyone I was close to. Everything was happening at once and I felt overwhelmed; all I wanted to do was contact my family back at home but there was simply no time.
Luckily, once everything settled down and I had a day-to-day routine I had time to myself to contact my friends and family. At first I was using Skype and/or Facebook. This was an easy way to stay in touch with friends but I found that I struggled to stay in touch with my parents and extended family, as most of them do not use either of these. I looked into it and found a phone app called Viber. This app lets me call and text people all over the world for free, by using the internet/Wi-Fi. Personally, this is now my favourite way to stay in touch with home! I text and call people in Australia whenever I am bored, walking to class or want to tell them about a funny thing that happened the night before. I have noticed that the key to not feeling homesick is to keep in touch regularly. Even if I just text my brother or best friend once a day, I find that it really does make a difference to how I am feeling.
I keep in touch with people back at home so often through Viber that I do not feel I am on the other side of the world to them. The hardest people to stay in touch with are the select family members who do not have Facebook/Skype or Viber. I call them roughly once every two weeks, however this makes me miss them even more because I rarely hear from them. Another piece of advice is to be careful what you are talking about. Chatting with friends and family from home is fantastic until one of us remembers how far apart we are. I try to keep the conversations about exciting things that we are both experiencing, know about or the more casual things. I have noticed that if I mention to someone that I went to Atlanta or to Disney World they seem happy for me briefly, but then it just makes them miss me and wish they were here doing that also.
In short, keep in touch regularly, make conversations about usual things rather than about the two separate lives you are living and make sure in addition to talking you video call every now and then. It is always lovely to see a familiar face and it makes a big difference to your time abroad.
Have you travelled overseas for an extended period of time? How did you keep in touch with your family and friends?