As technology has evolved, so have our communication strategies. University of Richmond has 75 study abroad programs around the world, making international communication a priority for many students. IPhone applications such as WhatsApp and Viber have made home only a few clicks away, but some students have found communication detracts from the abroad immersion experience.
Senior Samantha Lint worked at a health clinic in Madagascar the summer after her freshman year, studied abroad in Paris during the fall of her junior year and had an internship in Rwanda this past summer. She said her access to communication ranged from nothing in Madagascar to easy communication in Paris.
In Madagascar, Lint only had an emergency satellite phone that allowed her to make calls for $10 a minute.
“If I’m dying I would use it, but otherwise no,” Lint said. “I used it once about six weeks in to tell my parents I was alive.”
Lint said that she had gotten more out of that experience language-wise. By being cut off from communication, she said the only English she was exposed to was in one book she had brought.
In France, Lint said her experience had been completely different. She had access to Wi-Fi in her apartment and was easily able to access Facebook and her email.
“I was much more plugged in to the U.S. and to home,” Lint said. “I think that really took away from that experience because it was literally like being home.”
Lint received a Weinstein Grant and a Spider Internship Fund to work in Rwanda this past summer. Wi-Fi was available in Rwanda, but it was very slow, she said.
She had to make check-in calls with Richmond because of her grants. “That was challenging,” Lint said, “that the school didn’t understand my capacity to communicate and what they thought was a normal way to communicate wasn’t.”
Lint said she would use Skype audio to make these calls. She would go outside and stand in the dirt, hold her computer in the air, trying to find a signal.
“I think parents and the school is a little too obsessive about how much you need to communicate with family,” Lint said. “At 21, I have to take the consequences if some problem arises and I’m not prepared for it.”
Senior Blair Curcie studied in Chile and Ecuador for her junior year. She said she had access to Wi-Fi, but had to go to an Internet café when the Wi-Fi was down. She also said that there were often times when no Internet was available.
Curcie communicated almost weekly with friends and family through Skype, Facebook messages and email. She said that communication was less when her workload was heavier.
“I think both parents and friends were a little disappointed,” Curcie said. “Unfortunately, what happens is that there isn’t any time to communicate when things are going well and you’re having a blast, only when the dust settles and you’re really processing the experiences. I generally called my parents when I was having a tough time of it, so they didn’t get to hear much of the great stuff.”
Although she didn’t have a smartphone while abroad, she does now and uses WhatsApp to talk to her Chilean host brothers.
“I was absolutely less focused on and connected to technology while abroad,” Curcie said, “in a way that makes it almost frustrating to be so hyperconnected here.”
Junior Katy Norfleet is currently studying abroad in Thailand. She said she speaks to her family once a week through Skype, Facebook or Viber. She has access to Wi-Fi only on her university campus, so she must plan ahead when she talks to people.
“Before I left, my parents and I, uncertain of my internet access, decided that we would Skype once a week,” Norfleet said. “Setting that goal to regularly communicate put my parents at ease and also comforted me because I knew that the regular communication would curb any homesickness.”
She said she communicated often with her friends in the United States through Viber, but because of the 11-hour time difference, a conversation that might normally take five minutes can take several days.
“Internet access has helped me to feel as though I am not thousands of miles away from home,” Norfleet said. “As I can constantly shoot messages to friends and post updates to my blog, I have found that Internet has changed my perspective of distance.”
Contact staff writer Katie Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org