With the advent of social media and rapid advancements in wireless technology, one could argue that keeping in touch is now easier than ever before; however, you can have so much going on in your new life abroad, and new friendships can take up so much of your time, that it’s not difficult to lose touch with those important to you once a few thousand miles separate you physically.According to the HSBC Expat Explorer survey, over a third of respondents claimed they were worried about missing friends and family after relocating.
The good news is that with a bit of commitment, the various online tools available to you make staying in touch both easy and affordable. Hearing from a familiar group of people back home can go a long way towards alleviating any homesickness that you might feel in a foreign land and without an established social network. As an expat who has chosen to move away from your home town and leave your circle of friends and family behind, it’s important that you take the lead in connecting regularly. Ensure that your loved ones know you value their relationships by taking the first step in catching up with them after you move.
Make a Schedule
It might sound somewhat ‘corporate’ to schedule call times with those near and dear to you, but it makes a lot of sense to get organised in this way. Living in another country, it isn’t possible to rely on spontaneous meetings or unplanned get-togethers. If there’s a large difference in time zones, it’s even more challenging to find a suitable hour to talk. There might only be a couple of times a week when both of you are available, so it’s imperative that you take advantage of them by pre-arranging a convenient time to catch up.
Making a schedule like this will ensure you dedicate time regularly to your important relationships and other plans don’t interfere with that. You can develop a healthy routine of speaking with friends and family every week, and at the same time you will be sure that you are calling in at a time that’s good for both of you to spend catching up. It just takes a bit of effort to organise and maintain a schedule, and the rewards for your relationships will be excellent.
Keep Track of Special Occasions
While you can’t be physically present to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries back home, you can show your loved ones how much you care by remembering them and sending cards or gifts on special days. Many online shopping websites such as Amazon let you send gifts from sellers located in their home country so that you don’t have to spend money on exorbitant international shipping fees. They also provide gift-wrapping services on many products and deliver them directly to the intended recipients.
You can also mail greeting cards in the post or use websites like Moonpig which let you send personalised cards to the USA, UK and Australia, saving you the cost of postage stamps. Your family and friends will be very grateful for your gesture and it should definitely result in a stronger bond between you, even across the many miles.
Choose Your Method of Communication
With so many options available to you nowadays, it can be difficult to select the best way to catch up with a particular person. Some people still prefer traditional phone calls, some may prefer texting or social media messages, the more tech savvy may be into video calls, while some folks might be more comfortable with good old handwritten letters. Choose a medium that the recipient will be most likely to check regularly and use to respond in a timely fashion.
You may have to make a list of the important people you need to keep in touch with and their chosen methods of communication. If you then focus on the chosen medium and stick to it, you’ll find that individuals are more responsive and appreciative of your efforts to connect with them.
This is the most obvious method of keeping in touch, but international calls can be prohibitively expensive unless you take steps to minimise the cost. Once you relocate, be sure to get a local SIM card for your mobile phone so that you aren’t paying excessively high fees for roaming internationally. In addition, you can get country-specific international phone cards which will allow you to call home at relatively cheap rates on your mobile or landline telephone.
Some phone companies may also offer packages that allow International Direct Dialling (IDD), i.e. a certain amount of international call minutes for a monthly fee. It’s advisable to check the options available to you with local service providers and choose the one which best serves your home country.
If you can access the internet via a computer or phone, perhaps the most convenient way to keep in touch is by email. It is incredibly quick and easy to type a few lines and send them off without paying attention to time zone differences. You can write messages of any length and send them privately to your friends or family.
You can send a message to multiple email addresses if you want, thereby letting you share with several people at once. Most email providers (such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail and innumerable others) allow you to group your contacts in an address book and also let you sync your inbox with your smartphone for easier accessibility. It’s advisable to keep your emails short and frequent, so that it’s easy for recipients to reply promptly to you.
Perhaps the greatest technological aid for expats to stay close to friends and family back home is video chatting. Seeing the person you are talking to is the closest you can get to actually being in the same room as them. Many mobile and computer applications such as Skype, Google Hangouts and FaceTime (for Apple users) offer great video chatting capabilities. These programs also let you type text in a messaging window and share pictures, videos and links at the same time. Aside from a connection to the internet, you will either need a webcam for your computer (often inbuilt in most of the latest laptop models) or a front-facing camera for your mobile phone.
The only drawback to video chatting is that it requires a steady internet connection at both ends for it to run smoothly. The video stream can be choppy and undependable if you are not in strong network coverage. While the apps are free to use, be careful about data usage if you are on a limited plan. Even though it can sometimes be unreliable, video chatting is probably the best way to connect and feel like you are back at home for a brief moment in time.
Voice Over Internet Calls
Similar to video chatting, voice over internet calls let you use your internet connection to make phone calls using applications on your mobile phone or computer. Apps like Viber, WhatsApp, Oovoo, EuroCall and many others offer free voice calling capabilities that only require functional connections to the internet at either end (along with a headset and microphone if you are using a computer). They provide excellent sound quality and are an affordable way to stay in touch with people back home.
Text messaging is a great, unobtrusive way of staying in touch using your mobile phone. You can shoot off a quick message without regard for time differences, and recipients can reply when it’s convenient to them. Of course, the downside to international SMS is the high cost involved per message, which can add up pretty quickly if you are a serial texter.
Fortunately, there are now many free mobile messaging apps that you can install on your smartphone, which let you send unlimited messages using an internet connection. The most popular of these is probably WhatsApp, found on most people’s phones across the globe. In addition to text messages, WhatsApp allows you to send and receive photos, videos, audio clips and more. It even has a ‘group’ feature which lets you send your messages to a selected group of people at the same time. It’s like a private chat room that you can use to keep everyone back home in the loop. You can even make multiple WhatsApp groups to separate your friends from family if you wish.
Other popular text messaging apps are WeChat, Line (known for its unique emojis), iMessage (for Apple users) and Hike Messenger, amongst many others. Most of these applications have expanded their capabilities to include voice and video calling features too.
Facebook, the world’s most popular social networking site, makes it easy to keep in touch with your family, friends and even people who you have lost touch with over the years. Status updates, photo galleries, private messaging and group pages are just some of the features that help you share your daily life with your contacts.
Beyond Facebook there are a plethora of social media options, each of which have unique qualities to suit differing tastes. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest are just some of the other popular social networking applications you can use to share your messages, pictures and video clips. Certain people prefer to stay in touch on these online networks, so it’s worth the time to install a few apps on your phone and/or computer to communicate with them. For just the cost of a basic data plan, you can keep in touch with your close friends and family like never before.
A blog is an online journal you can keep of your experiences abroad, and an excellent way to show your friends and family (and even strangers) what you have been up to. Blogspot and WordPress are two of the most popular blogging sites that are free to use and let you upload pictures as well. People can then comment on your posts and begin conversations based on your shared experiences.
All you have to do is send your contacts a link to your blog and they can keep abreast of developments as long as you post to it somewhat regularly. Make it a routine to update your blog from time to time, even if it’s just a short post or a couple of pictures from the last restaurant you visited. Your loved ones will appreciate being part of your life in this way, even if it is just through a personal blog or website.
Letters and Postcards
Yes, there are still people who prefer to stay in touch the old-fashioned way. The art of letter writing may well be on the decline, but there’s a certain charm to receiving a handwritten note that electronic communication simply cannot deliver. It conveys to the recipients that you care enough to spend time personally writing to them and penning down your thoughts to send them in the post. It gives your communication a personal touch that is lost on a phone or computer screen.
The best way to keep up to date on your letter writing is to choose a weekend every month to do it, and then send them out immediately. This is obviously a great way to keep in touch with someone who doesn’t use the internet, but the gesture will be valued even by those who do. If letter writing isn’t your thing, think about sending a postcard from where you are. You just need to jot down a few lines on the back, and you will be effectively letting your friends and family know that you are thinking about them. To boot, it’s a really great feeling when you receive a hand-written reply in the post!
How do you keep in touch with your loved ones back home? Let us know in the comments!