Starting college is scary enough already. Now, before you get your bearings, all anyone can talk about is leaving for Spain or Brazil or China. Traveling is the dream, but how could you keep up with your new friends at home? Family at home home?
Because there are so many options to stay in touch with peers, students should never have to worry that taking an opportunity abroad means missing out. From wifi texting apps (which avoid using ever-spotty service), video calling and penpal games, students may even find that they grow even closer while they’re apart.
These are the collected stories of students who did just that. They traveled, and it wasn’t always pretty cafés and bar crawls. Each student faced different challenges and used different tools to stay social.
Hagar Baruch had lived an exceptionally international life. Being from a family that traveled for work and having an extended family in Israel, studying abroad in Korea for the summer of 2017 was just an exercise in years of practice. But, Korea was a 12 hour time difference from folks at home, and that took some getting used to.
While she was on the trip, there was a lot of periodic checking in with folks at home. It was organized and regular, but not very detailed. Baruch would save the long stories to tell for when she got back.
“A lot of the communication was done after I got back,” Baruch said. “I had written down what I had done each day.”
Although frequent, these conversations were cut brief by the 12 hour time difference. Baruch found she barely had a waking hour in common with people back home. This lead to shorter conversations, barely a skim of each day’s activities. Her parents would have to wait until she returned for the longer stories. Baruch described it as “filling in the gaps” that their mismatched schedules had left during her stay.
“With my parents, it was once a day maybe once every two days [when I would speak with them]. It was very brief conversations, one or two minutes,” Baruch said. “While I was just waking up, for them the day had just finished. There was a lot of them catching me up on the past and me telling them about the future.”
Where family often wants to talk on the phone, friends ask a little less. Texting is easy, even when relying on wifi through apps like Whatsapp. But sometimes when you haven’t seen someone you care about, you’ve got to Skype.
“My best friend, we would talk maybe once a week. Much more [digital] forms of communication,” Baruch said. “My best friend and I are used to [time apart]. I would travel [to Israel] most summers.”
It seems funny, but sometimes the distant miles bring people closer. As time wore on, stress built in her summer get-away in Korea. Hagar found she needed the familiar support of family.
“It made me talk to my sister a lot more often… The final two weeks, we would speak almost every night.”
Abbey Burmood is a history major and junior who took a Maymester in Italy in the summer of 2018. Her stay was brief but storied, and she never once had to worry about losing touch. There was only a six-hour time difference. Significant, yes, but it would become a convenient asset to her social life stateside.
“It actually ended up working out,” Burmood said. “When I was ending my day and had time to talk, people at home were in the middle of theirs.”
More significant was the modest duration of her trip, a mere ten days. She called her mom at touchdown, and once more before boarding for home, but that was it. No daily calling routine for her, despite having bit the bullet to buy an international data plan. The relatively short duration gave her an excuse to lose a little touch with home. She decided the modern fascination of instant communication wasn’t a necessary part of her life. When she got back, if texting friends looked more like keeping up with pen pals, so be it.
“I haven’t been as worried about responding since [I returned home],” Burmood said.
That instant communication definitely played a role among her and her peers abroad, though. Coordinating restaurant outings, bar hopping and weekend getaways was essential as the students trolleyed from one idyllic and provincial town to the next.
And once they got back to Atlanta, those same GroupMe chats arranged get-togethers and continuing friendships.
“We’re actually having a dinner tonight,” Burmood said.
Megan Manigbas was a Georgia State sophomore when she applied for one of the only study abroad programs for film majors like her. Over the summer of 2018, her experiences abroad would be very different than those of her peers. Unlike a traditional study abroad program with a few credit hours sandwiched between long, unstructured hours to explore, the program Manigbas enrolled in took the form of a project.
She worked with a team of other students to complete six separate short films. Amidst the work, there were a few days off, but with deadlines to meet almost daily, there was little down time to text home. Most communication home took the form of social media posts, with Snapchat stories and Instagram updates. That grew to feel fairly one-sided, a far cry from her expectations.
“I really expected more video calls than I got,” Manigbas said.
She knew she would miss home, friends and family, and she wanted to hear from them. But, being a busy, task-driven person by nature, she found many old habits from home followed her to Budapest.
“There wasn’t much difference,” Manigbas said. “I’m not that good at responding, even when I’m home.”
Manigbas might still be busy tackling projects, and maybe that’s what she needs. She certainly learned enough abroad in Budapest.
“I definitely feel like a stronger film major,” Manigbas said. “More refined, skilled and confident.”