For many grad students, going to school means being away from family and friends. Starting up my PhD meant another move to a new city and having to start all over… again. Two years ago, I left the USA to do my masters at University of Edinburgh in Scotland. While I was there, I developed great “keeping in touch” skills. I only got to visit home twice during the year and only had two visitors. Keeping in touch with those from home not only helped me deal with bouts of homesickness, but it was a great stress reliever. When I returned to the USA I kept up with the habits I had developed. I might have been back in the same country, but I was still not in the same state as most of my family and friends. Keeping in touch remains a priority even though I’m more likely to see them. I’m not going to lie and say that this is an easy thing to do: maintaining friendships and family ties takes time and energy. If you want to keep up with those from home, you do need to make it a priority and set aside time to do it. However, there are a number of ways of doing this. I was able to maintain my relationships with people through a number of different resources.
1. Skype: This was the most important program I downloaded when I moved to Scotland. Being able to see my family was more fulfilling an interaction than talking on the phone. As a bonus, it is also free (which I can’t say for the mobile plan I had to get). Skype is very easy to use and allows you to connect with people via video chat and only requires a webcam. I have a very close knit extended family, so it was fun having them turn on Skype at family parties so I could catch up with cousins. I continue to use Skype even now when the phone calls to my parents are free because I get to actually see them. I even use it with my mom to have her check out my outfits before I go on dates or with my grandparents to show them the new layout of my apartment.
2. Facebook: After undergrad your friends tend to disperse across the country, or even into other countries in my case. I think everyone knows that Facebook is a great resource for keeping in touch. Here’s the important part though: you actually have to keep in touch. Seeing someone’s feed, liking their comments, and taking quizzes about them is not keeping in touch. If you want to maintain a relationship you need to open up that chat window or send messages. It shows people that you are thinking of them. We all know how annoying it is when someone who we haven’t talked to in six years sends a happy birthday wish on your wall- so don’t be that guy. Maintaining contact means genuinely contacting them.
3. Call them up: I know its antiquated now, but giving someone a quick phone call is a nice surprise. With time often being limited, I do tend to call old friends and family members while I walking between buildings or picking up things around the house. Even if its just a quick hello, its going to mean more than a text message.
4. Letters: In order to keep in touch with my grandparents, some of which lack computers and are hard of hearing, I write letters. Its probably the most time intensive way of keeping contact, but it means a lot to them. Also, its nice getting mail back. If you don’t have time to hand write it, type it up, add some photos and print it off. A couple times I’ve done mass letters to family with photos of myself giving them a quick update on what I’m up to. Everyone likes to get a letter!
With keeping in touch there is also one important thing that you need to make people aware of, and that is what grad life is like. There are going to be times when you cannot afford to make a long phone call, or when writing a letter just isn’t feasible. Let family and friends know when times are getting busy. Politely tell them that you can’t talk right now, but you will call/text/write when you can. Not only does it alleviate any feelings of guilt, but its also highly likely they’ll send you signs of support during times of stress.
What are your methods for keeping in touch?
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