One thing that can be especially challenging after moving abroad is keeping in touch with your loved ones back home. Of course you want to stay connected and maintain your relationships, but how can you keep the level of closeness you once had with your friends and family when you can’t see each other very often? When you’re living far away, you want to share all the adventures you’ve been up to abroad while at the same time keep up with the goings on at home.
Now that I’m living in Germany, I try to keep in touch as much as possible with my family and friends back in Canada. Here are some of my favourite ways to stay in touch:
Skype and Google Hangouts
Video chatting has been a lifesaver when it comes to staying close with friends and family. There’s nothing like seeing your sister’s face and hearing her voice at the same time to feel like you’re actually hanging out in the same room. When I was in a long-distance relationship with my German boyfriend (now husband), we would Skype for hours at a time to stay connected. You can also type messages to each other in a chat window, send emoticons, and share web links of things you’re discussing (say, the flights you’re thinking of booking for a visit home).
The downside is that video chatting can be choppy and unreliable at times. I have spent several frustrating hours logging on and off of Skype or Google Hangouts and disabling and enabling the video function just to get a steady connection. Also finding a convenient time to chat can be tricky, especially when taking into account the time difference. Still, video chatting is my favourite way to feel close to friends and family (internet connection permitting!)
The original purpose of Facebook was to allow people to connect online. Since its launch over 10 years ago, it has amassed well over 1 billion active users worldwide. I am personally not very active on Facebook in terms of uploading photos or updating my status, but I love seeing my friends’ wedding photos, hearing pregnancy announcements and reading what my friends are up to. I think it’s a nice way to still feel in the know with what your friends are doing even if you don’t get to see them all that often anymore.
I use the Facebook Message feature a lot as an alternative to writing long emails because you can scroll through your message history with a particular person and get in touch with people who you otherwise might not be able to if you don’t have their other contact details.
When my coworkers mentioned WhatsApp to me for the first time back in 2013, they couldn’t believe it when I told them I’d never heard of it before. For those who aren’t familiar with it, WhatsApp is a mobile messaging app available on smartphones that allows you to send text messages, photos, videos, audio clips and more to people who also have WhatsApp. It allows you to send unlimited messages which is nice if you don’t have an unlimited SMS plan on your cell phone. WhatsApp is also great for sending free messages internationally since sending international SMS messages can really add up quickly.
I especially love the ‘group’ feature on WhatsApp where you can send messages to a group of designated people all at once so everyone is in the loop. I am part of multiple WhatsApp groups to keep in touch with my family all over Canada, my husband’s family all over Germany and even my former German classmates who live all over the world.
Postcards and Letters
In today’s fast-paced digital world, social media and phone apps make it easier than ever to stay in touch. Nevertheless, there’s something so quaint and heartwarming about sending cards and letters in the mail. I love to send postcards to family and friends when I’m travelling and have been known to buy a stack at a time and write them on a train ride home. On the flip side, it always brightens my day to receive a card in the mail for my birthday, get a postcard from my Mom on her travels or read a hand-written letter from a friend who just wanted to say hi.
When I visit Canada, I often stock up on English greeting cards that I bring back with me to send throughout the year from Germany. It really beats looking for an engagement/graduation/housewarming card in English in Germany!
I remember when e-cards (electronic cards) were all the rage in the late 1990s. I loved sending them to my friends just for fun and browsing the different designs and animations. I still send e-cards today and love them for their convenience. It can be tricky to know when to send a card in the mail to make sure it will arrive overseas on time for someone’s birthday. I have definitely been guilty of not sending something early enough only for it to arrive weeks late! Many e-card providers allow you to open a free account where you can keep an email address book as well as write and schedule e-cards in advance; this is especially handy if you tend to forget special occasions and birthdays. My personal favourite e-card provider is Punchbowl because there are lots of free designs to choose from and you can customize the text, font, colours, envelope liner, digital stamp and envelope message for every card.
What are your favourite ways of keeping in touch when you’re abroad? Phone, email, text message? I’d love to hear in the comments below!