If homesickness is setting in, international students can let virtual communication ease the disconnect from loved ones back home or close friends who have traveled elsewhere to pursue higher education.
When I first moved to the U.S. on my own, using WhatsApp to shoot short text messages to determine "What detergent did my mom use?" helped me make simple decisions. Whenever I had a tough day, talking to my best friend – who lives in Australia – was made possible through Viber, as she listened to my tearful mumbles and consoled me.
The following are several options that can still give your mom the power to check in on what her baby is up to and help international students keep in touch.
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• Skype: Schedule a Skype date with your family members or your best friends from high school. Seeing their faces and hearing their voices through this video and voice calling service will be comforting even if they're not in reach.
Talk about anything and everything. Talk about school, your new friends, your memories with this person, and most importantly, about the way that you're feeling. These are the people in your life who already know your personality, care for you and appreciate you for who you are. They are your greatest source of comfort and stability.
During finals season, my friends in Australia and I often Skype each other to have study sessions. This way we feel like we're still in high school at the library together, keeping each other focused.
• Google Hangouts: A Hangout is a great way to connect with several people via webcam at once. This will let you speak to both your grandma and mom at the same time or a couple of your friends in different locations for free – unlike Skype, which has many free features but charges for group video calls.
In addition, Google Hangouts allow you to share your screen so, for example, you can show your parents when you are booking your flight home. There are apps to play games together and Google effects so you can add masks and sounds to your Hangout, making it more interactive and personal.
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• Viber: This smartphone application allows you to make free calls over a Wi-Fi or data connection. However, the receiver must also have Viber in order for a call to be received.
Although there is a messaging platform within Viber, I've found that it is not as reliable as WhatsApp. But this app will surely benefit you by lowering the monthly phone bill.
• WhatsApp: This application, offered for smartphones to download, is a free texting application that uses Wi-Fi or cellular data so you can be in contact 24/7. Like Viber, it requires that both parties have the application on their phones.
Use WhatsApp to text pictures of what you are doing and eating to your mom so she knows that you're getting the proper nutrients. Have group chats with your friends and exchange voice recordings.
I use WhatsApp every day to keep in touch with my mom. Although the use of this technology may be a blessing for her because she can easily keep tabs on me, there's also a hidden downside to it.
She often complains about me texting her at 3 a.m. in her time zone to ask how to pick out certain grocery items. But since she loves me so much, she still replies.
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• Snapchat: Send quick and quirky periodic updates through your phone to show little snapshots of your day. The app only lets you and your Snapchat buddy see the photo for a few seconds, allowing your responses to be original and unique.
• Snail mail: In spite of all of these electronic and instant options to keep in touch, sometimes it's nice to scale things back and refer to more personal methods for communication. For special occasions like birthdays, the birth of a new family member or just to send a warm greeting, sit down with a card or paper and write a personal letter.
When loved ones receive this they'll often feel the heartfelt message and cherish your words even more. If you are lucky, they might even send one back – which will be a perfect memento to look at when days are a little rough from being far away.
Every year, my best friend and I have a birthday tradition of sending a humorous birthday card to each other along with a heartfelt letter. Sending your loved ones reminders of what they mean to you by doing something a little more special makes it worth the effort of stopping by the post office.
Nisa Taib, from Brunei, is a senior at the University of Washington, studying business administration with a concentration in marketing.