For those of you who know me, you know I lived abroad before this experience. In 1997, I did a semester abroad in London. After finishing undergrad, I spent a couple of months in Montpellier, studying French. From 2001-2003, I was living in Budapest, Hungary.
Comparing past experiences to present, I can tell you it's never been easier to stay in touch with friends and family from abroad. Technology has truly progressed even from less than 10 years ago. While I was living in Budapest, my main form of communication was email. In reality, I kind of fell off the radar. If I wanted to call anyone, I'd buy a calling card, use a payphone, punch in the card number and then place my call.
Today, there are a plethora of choices to keep in touch. Skype is my personal favorite, allowing computer to computer voice calls for free, video chatting for free, or by adding as little as $10 credit, I can call anyone, anywhere in the world! My username on Skype is "andrewesl99"
Next in line for convenience and frugality is Google Voice. I set up a Google Voice number (410) 941-8019 while in the States as a work number for my tutoring business. Many of you may have noticed I added a Google Voice Call Me button in the right column of my blog. If you click on it, it will prompt you to enter a name and a number. Please enter my name and the above number. Alternatively, assuming you're in the US, you could call the above number from your cellphone. As long as I am online here in Austria, your call will be routed through to my web browser which I can answer. We'll be talking, me through the computer, you through your phone.
If I were really fancy pants, I would have bought a smart phone before I left the US. I could have continued to pay my monthly bills to AT&T for the use of my old 917- number. I then could have routed that number through google voice. In effect, you could have continued to call my old phone number and, routing it through Google Voice, I would have been able to pick it up with my smart phone here. However, I chose not to continue paying $60/mo. to AT&T because prepaid cellphone usage is much cheaper here. I have seen plans here for 500 minutes and 500 texts per month at a rate of 5 Euros ($7.50)/mo. It makes you wonder why we pay so much in the US?
Another option for staying in touch is via game consoles. I haven't really looked into this yet, but some friends game on Microsoft's Xbox real-time with people around the world. That seems like a fun way (if you can coordinate the different time zones) to catch up with friends while blowing their Avatar's brains all over the side of a wall in Army Combat 5, the blood-letting (soon to be released :)
I guess as someone who remembers watching the Berlin wall come down in 8th grade and hearing the catchphrase "globalization" constantly throughout my high school and college education, it is cool to see how the world is shrinking.
So, we would love to maintain our friendships even while abroad. Pick whatever way works for you, we can email, Skype (video chat), or Google Voice. Call the Google Voice number from your cell and leave us a message. When we call back, you'll be amazed. Even though we're across the world, it'll sound like we're right next door!