E-mail is a quick-and-easy (and cheap) way to keep in touch with friends and family at home. “I usually keep in touch with my friends by e-mail,” says Julieta Avila of Mexico, who is studying at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, Missouri.
Your school will most likely provide you with an e-mail account, and many campus residence facilities now feature Internet access for students. You can access your e-mail from your computer, if you have one, or through computers located around campus. You may also want to sign up for a free Internet-based e-mail account, which you can check when you are in the United States and when you travel home; you can sign up for a free e-mail account from Hotmail, Yahoo, and other similar Web sites.
Many students also use the Internet to communicate through instant messenger (IM) accounts. IM is a service that allows individuals to “talk” online, typing messages back and forth in real time (for one such service, see www.aim.com). You may even be able to use IM services to keep in touch with family and friends at home.
Internet communication is great for speed and convenience, but nothing can replace the sound of your loved one's voice on the phone. “Family and friends are the best,” says University of Central Florida student Vikam Tambde of India. “Speaking to them relieves all your misery.”
If you will be living in campus housing, check with your school to find out what their phone service provider charges for international calls. If the cost is too high, consider using pre-paid calling cards. Large phone service providers such as AT&T and MCI, as well as many other companies, offer pre-paid calling cards. It is important to investigate all the terms and conditions of these cards before purchasing one. Some cards advertise extremely low rates—for example, 1.3 cents per minute—then charge connection fees, termination fees, monthly or weekly service fees, and more. With the added fees, the cost is much greater than the advertised rate. Cards that advertise higher rates, such as 10–40 cents per minute, may be all inclusive; always check the details.
If you choose to live off campus, you may have access to Internet-based phone services that use a technology called “voice over Internet protocol” (for example Verizon VoiceWing and Vonage). These services use broadband Internet connections to transmit phone calls, and you can use this service to call anyone with a traditional phone or cellular phone. While these providers may charge $1 per minute for calls to remote locations, you can call China, India, Japan, Mexico, and most of Europe for between four and 20 cents per minute. These plans cost $15–35 per month. The less expensive plans typically offer fewer monthly minutes for calls in the United States; international students can take advantage of these cheaper plans since international minutes are always charged separately.
Whatever service you choose, be mindful of global time differences. Always arrange with your friends and family what times are best to call.
Most college students have cellular phones, and as you walk across campus you will see many students talking on their cell phones while they study, run errands, and hurry to class. Calling or sending text messages may be the easiest ways to reach your fellow students. Unfortunately, cell phones are not always reliable for overseas calls; the level of service depends on your provider and the package you choose. You should review international calling options carefully if you decide to get a cell phone.
Send a Letter
Writing a letter takes more time than sending e-mail or calling family, but overall the cost is less and letters are great for sharing news and updates that aren't time sensitive. Students will already have paper and pens for their schoolwork, so the supplies are at hand. Once you have written your letter and addressed the envelope, take it to the nearest United States Postal Service location; staff there can help you determine how much postage is required to send your letter and also advise you of regulations regarding sending mail internationally. If you need to send packages home (anything larger than a letter), you can still use the United States Postal Service, or you can investigate other carriers such as FedEx, and United Parcel Service.