Study abroad: Staying connected over land and sea

View all tags
Anna Espenhahn
blog image alt text

In the digital era staying connected to those you love no matter the distance has become infinitely easier than it once was. Phone calls, social media, texting, and video calls allow for communication over land and sea, so why does it feel so hard to truly connect with those you aren’t physically present with? This is a feeling that can be overlooked and overwhelming to those who decide to embark on a study abroad adventure. 

When I was preparing to study abroad, I checked my packing list a dozen times. I triple checked my class schedule and researched my destination. I prepared myself mentally for possible culture shock, the stress of travel and school combined, and having to meet all new people. I didn’t think about the struggles that would come from staying in touch with people back home. After participating in a summer abroad, having a partner study abroad, and a friend move to another country, I have become well experienced in bridging the distance.

Mental barriers

Personally, my biggest struggle with staying connected was getting over the mental barriers that would stop me. I am someone who suffers greatly from the feeling of missing out and when separated this feeling would come from two directions. I would fear missing out on opportunities in my own life and fear of missing important moments in my loved one’s life. I would want to be out experiencing the world around me, while also terrified of leaving the house in case someone would call to talk. 

While I was abroad, I spent days in my room when I should have been experiencing the culture around me all because I wanted to continue to call, text, and video chat my friends back home. The feeling of missing out was also extremely challenging when my partner was studying abroad. In a relationship it can be hard to take a step back and understand that a partnership is two individuals coming together in love, but they are still individuals. It is OK and encouraged to have your own experiences apart from your partner. You must trust your partner, yourself and the relationship. While distance might be separating you physically, that does not mean you aren’t together. 

Technical tools

Apart from the mental, there are also physical barriers to overcome. It is important to research messaging applications that are used in the country you are visiting, and if you will want to communicate solely over WiFi or not. Some applications are not as popular, efficient, or even functional in other countries. Research recommendations such as this one for application ideas. I am a huge fan of video calls when talking to those who are overseas. It allows for face-to-face connection even if there is a physical barrier between you. I never appreciated that connection until it was the only way for me to see the people I love. 

Shared experiences

Once you have your means of communication, it is time to consider what to do when talking. While it is nice to sit down and have a catch-up conversation about what is going on in your different lives, this can get redundant and boring over time. I suggest finding things that can be done together while on the phone. My favorite is sitting down and watching a movie together. I did this with those I loved by downloading a screen sharing software on my computer and pulling up Netflix, or any other movie sharing website. I would then video-call the person with whom I was sharing my screen and we would commentate, laugh and cry together while watching a movie. This made it feel as though we were truly together and allowed for a bonding experience while apart. 

Staying connected can be hard, but it is possible. Many students travel for a semester, go to school far from home, or move away after college. You can still get the feeling of being with those who are far way with the help of technology. The biggest block is often a mental one. Be open to new experiences. This will allow you to stay connected to the world around you and to those you love.