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Best ways to keep in touch while studying abroad

Deciding to study abroad can be a daunting decision, whether it’s for a semester or entire degree. This experience will likely change you in many respects, and have a significant impact on your career. One of the biggest challenges can be staying in touch with family and friends back home. Luckily, we live in an incredibly technologically connected world and there are many tools to easily stay connected with your loved ones while you explore your new home. One of the most obvious is Facebook, where you can easily private message or write on people’s walls, as well as post updates and photos during your time abroad for everyone to see. You could even create a Facebook group and invite your closest friends and family to post updates and stay in contact. Most international programs will form a group specifically for your peers, so you will be able to stay in touch with them even after the program is over.

In some countries, depending on the phone carrier, you can purchase a local SIM card to put into your own phone. You could also buy a new phone, carrier, and service plan when you get to your new home. These two options are best for students who will be studying in their new country for an extended period of time.

Smartphones, including iPhones, Android phones and Windows phones, offer tons of apps that make talking or messaging easy, often avoiding expensive data or other charges. Here’s a rundown of some app highlights:

WhatsApp: A free messaging service, WhatsApp allows you to direct messages (like Facebook messaging) with anyone who also has the app. You need an internet connection to use WhatsApp, so either a data plan or Wi-Fi.

Viber: Like WhatsApp, you can send messages and photos to users, but Viber also allows you to make voice calls when you have an internet connection.

Skype: Skype has been around for years and is one of the most popular ways to voice or video chat with other users. If you have an internet connection, you can Skype with anyone around the world who is also on Skype for free. If you buy Skype calling credits, you can call a landline or mobile number at a rate usually cheaper than other phone plans.

Facetime: Automatically loaded onto all Apple devices, Facetime allows you to video chat with anyone who also has the app for free. Facetime works best when using Wi-Fi.

MessageMe: A relatively new application, MessageMe allows you to send free messages and photos to other users.

Google Hangouts: A video, chat and screen sharing application that you can use with your google / gmail account for free.

GradTrain: Through GradTrain’s online video and chat platform, you can stay in touch with your coach as you make the transition abroad and throughout your studies.

This is just a short list of some of the most popular apps you can use because there are constantly new apps being created. Aside from all the technology, you can also stay in touch with friends and family the old fashion way - through “snail mail”—sending an actual letter or postcard at the post office. With so much of what we do based around the internet and social media, it can be refreshing to send a handwritten letter or postcard from where you’re studying, especially to someone dear such as your grandparents or parents.

Another easy way to stay in touch and also document your time abroad is through blogging. If you choose an online blog versus keeping a personal journal, there are many websites to choose from, such as Tumblr, Blogger and WordPress. It is free and easy to create an account where you can then update your blog with stories, pictures, and anything else you want to share!

Aside from all the social media and messaging services, a simple phone call also goes a long way towards staying connected with friends and family back home. As you are adjusting to studying abroad, possibly dealing with an episode of homesickness, a phone call home can be reassuring and comforting.

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