When you’re several thousand kilometers from home, and know you’ll be there for at least the next 263,520 minutes, a few things come to mind right away:
- - Where’s the nearest bar?
- - Will I be able to find my way back to my flat after the bar?
- - What’s the deal with classes?
- - Will I freeze to death?
- - Will my girlfriend survive us being so far apart?
- - How will I stay in touch with everyone back home?
While I can’t exactly answer questions 1-5, you’re in luck for the last one, bucko. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, hamming it up all night with your friends, family, or ferret named Freddy is more than doable – though not recommended on nights you have a class at 8 a.m. the next morning. Let’s take a look at some of the options:
SKYPE While mobile phones are unquestionably cost-prohibitive for all but the children of movie stars or royalty, the Internet makes having a conversation with someone on the other side of the world quick, easy, and – above all – affordable. Services such as Skype not only let you talk to someone, but you can see them as well (provided your computer has a webcam), pimples and all. Remember to brush your teeth before logging on.
INSTANT MESSAGING Of course, for those who prefer the written word to the spoken word, there’s more Instant Messaging (IM) services available than there are empty seats at Råsunda Stadium these days. AOL, AIM, Hotmail, Yahoo, and even Facebook all offer free IM services, meaning you can practice your writing while sharing your day with Mom, Dad, and Grandpa Fritz. Just make sure your fingers are warmed up first.
EMAIL If you’re like me, and your parents are still using dial-up Internet or prefer only to talk to people back home when you absolutely have to, then email is your best bet. If I were writing this column five years ago, I might offer a brief explanation of where to get an email address, but these days I can safely say if you don’t know how to use it, you’ve either been living under a rock, just awoke from a decade-long coma, or are a dog. Anyway, you can say a lot in an email, and once you’re done you can relish the fact you won’t have to hear from your family for the next six weeks. And if you don’t want to say a whole lot, well, just attach a couple of self-explanatory photos. Just don’t attach those pictures of you and four of your girlfriends taking Jell-O shots at the bar last weekend, if only to avoid having to explain the whole potentially embarrassing situation to your equally disappointed and dumbfounded parents when you finally get back home.
POSTCARDS They may be “snail mail,” but they sure look cool, and make great souvenirs. Remember that, literally, getting a post card from you might be the closest some people will ever come to actually going to Sweden. And to boot, most girls find postcards to be just a little evocative of old-fashioned-y romance. And ladies, us guys don’t mind getting them when our girlfriends are abroad, either. Just saying.
Technology. It’s a blessing, and a curse. Kind of like the Swedish winter. But when it comes to staying in touch with friends and family, it usually falls into the “blessing” category. But some days… (text deleted due to offensive comments towards computers)