Long before I arrived in Moscow, I knew I would need to find some way to communicate with family and friends back home. Three months is a long time, especially for parents who send their daughter to a country which frequently makes the news for riots, political tensions and anti-American sentiment. My family wanted to periodically make sure that I was still alive and well. I myself wanted to stay updated on the lives of everyone else. Some of my friends were graduating, others joined the army and even more were studying abroad themselves. Amidst that were breakups, hookups, stresses, successes and major life events galore.
In order to keep up with all of this, I needed a couple things. First, there was the technological component; I would have internet access, Skype and Facebook and a phone with an international data plan which would allow me to use all of the above even when away from my host family. These things were relatively simple to find and everything was figured out ahead of time. The next, more complicated part involved time management skills and balance.
When my family hosted a Turkish exchange student my senior year of high school, we learned that her provider’s policy was to allow her only two hours of internet communication per week. Considering the amount of time their American daughters casually spent on Facebook every day, my parents considered this rule pretty drastic and more or less let Alara do as she pleased. However, my reasons for traveling to Russia did include learning the Russian language, growing close to my host family and making new Russian friends. I wanted to find a way to accomplish these things without going to the extremes of Alara’s program.
When I was in Russia, I spoke with American friends about once every day or every other day. I Skyped around once a week and called my parents once every other week. I used Facebook regularly. In order to make up for what I felt were decently long periods of time
speaking and writing in English, I would follow up these conversations with Russian activities. I tried to watch movies and cartoons in Russian, work through Russian texts and listen to Russian music or the radio. After a Skype call with my best friend, I would sit down in my host family’s kitchen and start a conversation with Sasha, my host sister. After a couple weeks, I found my solution. This way, I felt like I was able to keep in touch with family and friends without losing touch with my current reality in this amazing new setting.
While what I did worked for me, I wouldn’t prescribe it for every Bobcat abroad. My advice for the traveling student: find out what you want from your experience and shape everything, including Facebook usage, around that. Balance means something different for every student; it is up to you to figure out how much is too much when it comes to keeping in touch.
Anna Mendlein is a junior Social Work and Russian major who studied abroad in Moscow, Russia during the Spring 2014 semester. Anna is also a Peer Adviser at the Office of Education Abroad. Visit her during walk-in advising hours every M-F from 1-4pm or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.