Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Brit in the USA: How To Keep In Touch With People Back Home

Many British expats—like me—can find themselves going years without seeing their friends and family back home. Whatever the reason—be it lack of finances or time—the prospect of hopping across the ocean can be problematic for some. It is vitally important, then, that we find other ways of maintaining contact with those across the Pond.

Thankfully, the world—big and wide as it's often portrayed—is actually much smaller than it once was. This is thanks to modern technology.

At the touch of a button (or several keys), you can speak face-to-face with friends or family in a matter of seconds (subject to the odd (sometimes very odd) technical glitch). Amazingly—and I'm not sure we could have pictured this in the days before the internet—the applications that allow this are completely free. I'm talking, of course, about video chat programs.

Naturally, video chat programs are a huge step up from telephone calls, which—aside from the obvious lack of visuals—incur relatively hefty service charges (even if you buy one of those international dialing cards, you're still looking at 10-to-20 dollars per purchase). Not so with the likes of Skype and Google Hangouts. These allow not only for face-to-face visuals, but the possibility of playback—just in case you wanted to hear your mother tell you the date of her birthday one more time.

On the subject of birthdays (and more specifically, gifts), another way to keep in touch is through the postal service. However, be warned; mailing packages from the United States to Britain can be a costly affair and not always a speedy one. This, of course, is the price you pay (literally) for communicating through the medium of parcels and handwritten letters (that last one is apparently an archaic, pre-21st-century concept).

Speaking of the 21st Century, many of my younger readers may well prefer conversing without actually talking (i.e. texting). Please note that international texts are not included in a standard texting plan in the U.S. and typically cost between 20 and 25 cents per message (again, that's to send or receive). This is where chat services—such as Facebook chat and Google Hangouts—come in handy. Not only are they free, they operate as mobile apps and essentially do the exact same thing as text messaging (as long as the other person has a profile).

For those of you, though, who prefer your conversations to have a little, err, conversation, it really doesn't get any better than video chat. I've not been in the same room as my parents for over 5 years, but having Skype essentially means I haven't needed to is the next best thing.

How do you keep in contact with people in another country? Let me know in the comments box below.


Laurence is a British expat living in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a contributor for BBC America and has written for Anglotopia and Smitten by Britain. Having graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in English Language and Creative Writing, Laurence runs this blog, Lost In The Pond, charting the endless cultural and linguistic differences between Britain and The United States. 

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3 comments:

Paul said...

Skype is wonderful.

Jeanette said...

I've used Google Hangout and can make calls from the US to the UK for 2 cents a minute through Google Voice. The reception is fantastic, unlike another carrier's World program. How could you not love Google at those prices!

Anonymous said...

Hello?? WhatsApp and Viber! Those are hugely popular, I'm surpirsed they're not mentioned. Those are what I use with my fiance.

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