While studying abroad, find balance by staying in touch

Admittedly, studying abroad gave rise to a series of fears. Along with learning to adapt to a new country and lifestyle and making new friends, I had another equally potent fear: losing touch with the friends and family I left behind.

This fear stood at the forefront of my worries in July, when I began my adventures in Melbourne. I realized that it is very easy to take advantage of proximity — when you see friends on a daily basis, there is a limited need to make a message or call. Or maybe it’s just me — I don’t have a need to constantly be on the phone, or at least I didn’t need to before I came here. Though some people I know saw their phones as an extension of their limbs, my phone was a burden, so much so that I had lost a total of six phones before starting school here.

I have always struggled with being the one to reach out. And sometimes that struggle has caused me to drift from friends. I noticed this especially when I started college. In my first semesters at USC, I became fixated on my experience, ensuring I was fully present as a student in L.A. The occasional — and by occasional I really mean semi-annual — text was the extent of my outreach to those friends who did not live within a two-mile radius. Between me and my roommates, our communication through cell phones centered on cleaning responsibilities. Needless to say, I am dependent on face-to-face contact.

Naturally, my lackluster approaches caused me to lose touch. I have seen friends come and go, but with those that remain, each time I see them it is as if no time has passed. But studying abroad proved a new challenge. Suddenly, the proximity advantage disappeared. I worried that studying abroad on a different continent would make me irrelevant.

Thus, studying abroad forced me to call my habits into question. I had to make an effort to maintain a relationship with those friends where the majority of our contact depended on proximity. I knew I needed to reform my ways. My ambivalence about communication would have to adapt accordingly.

When I first came to Melbourne, I made a concerted effort to text friends and make the occasional phone call, relying on anything from reminders on my phone to physical elements around me to signal that though those friends might not be near, our relationship still remained. The system worked for quite some time, until I realized that there were times I had to kindly ask friends if I could put our shared life on hold in order to be fully present in the study abroad life. Maybe it was selfish, but it was only a small request
from a true friend.

When it comes to staying in touch, balance is key. Every so often, it’s important to catch up and send the occasional text or Snapchat. This can go a long way in keeping up with friends. It signals that I am still a part of their lives, though I am on the other side of the world.

Parents will, over time, understand if they are not getting a call everyday. I’ve found that the best way to keep my parents happy is to send pictures every few days and message them when I get home from a night out. I have been able to stay in contact with family members by strategically calling during holidays. That way I can talk as much as I want in a single sitting.

Ultimately, I consciously made an effort to share less and listen more. There will be a time and a place in the future for me to share my experiences camping in Tasmania or dancing in the street in Gold Coast. By asking about their lives, I can not only gain insight into what’s happening back home, but also let them know that I am available to listen, even in a different time zone.

If anything, studying abroad taught me just how to deal with keeping in touch. I have exchanged my fear with a
well-learned lesson. Now, just as I needed to stay in contact with friends and family back home, I have to do the same to keep the friends I have made while abroad. It is impossible to imagine my experience here without a cell phone. I now know that even if I spent the full six months away without saying a word, that would just mean more sharing upon my return. But having a cell phone, FaceTime, Snapchat, WhatsApp and every other application goes a long way in reconnecting.

Nika Shahery is a junior majoring in international relations and policy, planning and development. Her column, “Aussie Adventure,” runs Thursdays.