In addition to spending my Spring Semester in Málaga, Spain spent nearly a month studying in London at the University of Westminster last summer and I’ve had a lot of friends ask me for advice about communicating while abroad. I wanted to share some advice about communicating abroad while people are getting ready to leave to go abroad for the summer!
Before you leave:
-If you’re studying somewhere in a different time zone I would recommend taking advantage of the world clock on your phone especially while you’re getting used to the time difference so that you always know what time it is at home.
-Download a texting app like whatsapp, Skype, or viber. In Spain, with most of the natives I met, including my host family, almost no one actually texted they all messaged and called each other using Whatsapp. I have an iPhone so I mostly just used iMessage and facetime/facetime audio to communicate with people back home but I used whatsapp to communicate with my host family and most of my friends from my program.
-Check with your cell service provider to see if your phone is unlocked. Verizon is automatically unlocked but with some other providers you need to call and ask them to unlock it to you! Basically if your phone is unlocked it means you can take out the sim card and out a new one in while you’re abroad and your phone will work as it should. I got a sim card when I was in London and one when I was in Spain and it could not have worked out more perfectly. Basically if you buy a sim card it will give you a phone number for the country you are studying in and you will have data and maybe a limited amount of texting or calling to other numbers in your country. I mostly used it for data to use iMessage and whatsapp to communicate with my friends abroad and at home. I also used it for maps a lot which was really helpful because I never had to worry about getting lost. A lot of my friends got by without sim cards because many places in Europe have free wifi so if a sim card is not something you’re interested in you will be fine, but it brought me (and my parents) a lot of peace of mind knowing I could get in contact with my family and that they could get in contact with me.
-Do your research. If you are going to be purchasing a sim card, research the brands that have the most service and the plan you might want. They do not require a contract and in my experience ranged anywhere from $5-$30 depending on how much data you want. In some countries it is cheaper to buy a cheap phone without a contract, so its good to research if that is a better or cheaper option than a sim card.
Once you get there:
-Once your plane lands just check in with your family so that they know you are safe and you made it to your destination. This should go without saying but an important part of communication abroad is making sure to keep your family posted, because parents worry!
-If you are going to be buying a sim card you can get it when you get there! They’re very common in Europe and a lot of times they sell them at the airport (though they can be more expensive depending on which cell service providers are sold at the airports). Usually the people at the phone store can install the sim card for you but be sure to keep your old sim card in a safe place so you don’t lose it because you will need it when you go back to the states.
-Once you get settled in you will probably get into a good habit of communicating with your friends and family back home, and you will eventually get used to any time differences there are. Even when your off having fun don’t forget to check in with your family! That being said, don’t let yourself get caught up constantly trying to be in communication with those back home as it could make you more homesick, allow yourself to really enjoy your time abroad! It might take a little while but you will find a good balance!
Communicating with your new friends abroad
-Communicating with your new friends abroad can be a bit difficult because everyone will be used to using different messaging apps as well as some people will have data and be able to communicate anywhere, whereas some people will only be able to communicate on wifi. When you have to meet up with friends who don’t have any data (or if you don’t have data), be sure to set a very specific meeting place and a specific meeting time. Most of the time in Spain, my friends and I would meet at a McDonalds where we knew there was free wifi, so if someone was late we could potentially communicate with them. Eventually you will get into a good groove with talking to and meeting up with your new friends but that too can take a little bit of time.