When I first left England’s green and pleasant land, way back in 1990, the only communication I had with my large circle of friends came in envelopes. As an avid letter-writer, I was (and still am) noted for “keeping in touch”. I probably wrote at least one letter a day to someone or other for the first year I lived in the States. (Is it any wonder that I blog?) Most of my friends returned the favour and the ones that didn’t keep up the communication usually couldn’t be blamed as babies and/or careers waylaid them. I remember running to the mailbox each day hoping to find a letter from somebody. Anybody. Communication with friends and family has always been important to me, no matter how far away they are. The years before the World Wide Web saw a decreasing numbers of letters coming my way, which was probably inevitable, but still saddened me.Fortunately, these days, because of the Internet and cheap international calling plans, it’s much easier to keep in touch. Indeed, in my books, it’s almost rude not to. For those not inclined to write 3-6 page letters, as I was, the occasional FB comment is more than enough to keep a long-distance relationship alive. A photo posted here, a joke or a comment there. It doesn’t have to be every day, or even every week. Posting photos of your kids and/or pets is a great way to share with your “friends” and an awful lot cheaper than the old-fashioned way of sending photos through the mail.
While the time difference from my zone to the UK isn’t always conducive to a nice phone chat (my post school drop-off lull is usually when my friends are heading off to collect their ducklings), an e-mail often solved the problem. It doesn’t replace a chat, but via e-mail we can “book” a time to have a more meaningful conversation.
I have also managed to continue relationships that might otherwise have died on the vine. A few years ago I reconnected with a friend from my teens, only to find that she was about to move to Australia. Given the gap in our communication up to that point, we probably wouldn’t have kept in touch the old-fashioned way. Now however, although it’s unlikely we’ll ever be back in England at the same time (sob), we are Facebook friends and regularly comment and share news.
This summer I was lucky enough to travel to Ghana with my daughter. We met some wonderful people, many of whom we will definitely remain in contact with, all through e-mail and Facebook. Only a few years ago, before the Ghanaian school we visited had Internet access, the possibility of being able to communicate on a regular basis would have been very slim. Now we can keep up to date with progress at the school and share news from our world too.
Such luxuries make me wonder what it must have been like for expats many years ago. The Proclaimers’ wonderful song “Letter from America” spoke of the enormous physical and emotional move it was to emigrate to a far-off land. “When you go will you send back a letter from America”. Even when letters were sent, their journey took weeks instead of days and there was no way the sender could confirm receipt. Many emigrants to far off countries literally never saw, or sometimes heard from, their nearest and dearest again.
These days, anyone new to a country or a region doesn’t have to go it alone. Because of web sites such as Expat Focus, there’s a wealth of information and support available to help prepare and execute an overseas move. Forums are invaluable for tapping into expat advice and recommendations, not to mention the possibility of making friends in your new home.
Indeed ‘tis a small, social networky world. –
Toni Summers Hargis is the author of "Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom", (St. Martin’s Press) and blogs as Expat Mum.