In the modern world, staying connected to friends and family is no longer a matter of direct conversation. An estimated 258 million (or 1 in every 30) people are international migrants—a number that has increased by 49 percent since 2000. This figure is also expected to increase in the coming years, with a projection of 405 million international migrants by 2050.
Despite living at university for the last three years, nothing could prepare me for the distance and difficulty of keeping in touch while living in Canada—over 4,000 miles (about 6,437 kilometres) away from my home in the U.K.
Luckily for me and so many others, technology has expanded to make communicating from across the world seemingly effortless. With global travel being not only a possibility but a likelihood, communication and keeping in touch is now a multifaceted skill set that, although simple enough, can be difficult to execute efficiently.
In my personal experience, the internet is the most useful tool for global communication. While phone calls and text messages are costly when abroad, communicating online through social media, instant messengers (IMs) and video calls are inexpensive when you’re connected to Wi-Fi. I use all three to keep in touch with people across the world from me, and each has advantages and disadvantages.
Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any other social media platform, most of us have one or more accounts that we can utilize when communicating from abroad.
With 3.499 billion active social media users in 2019, updating your social media accounts regularly makes the most sense as a way of keeping in touch with a large number of people at once. An example of this could be a status update about your day or a ‘check-in’ at a place or event, allowing friends and family an insight into your daily life.
Instagram sees an average of 95 million photos being uploaded daily, and as they say that a picture is worth 1,000 words, uploading photographs of your outings can be a perfect way to snapshot what you’ve been up to. However, it has been my experience to curate my life on social media, only showing the good and omitting anything perceived as bad. This can make communicating through social media posts seem impersonal.
Combined, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp handle 60 billion messages a day and are perfect for sending a quick message to a loved one or having short daily conversations.
By communicating with a single person or small group through IMs, you can share more personal information that isn’t necessary to include in a social media post. When communicating globally, I tend to send updates over IMs such as, “I’ve landed safe,” or “How are you?” These messages let my loved ones know they are being thought of.
IMs have been designed to send messages instantly, but that by no means equals an instant reply. This is perfect when you’re sending messages across the world, as you can ignore time differences and send a message whenever you want, knowing that the recipient will reply when they are awake or free.
As easy as sending IMs is, a primary disadvantage of communicating this way is that details are missed and stories are shortened in order to save time typing. In contrast, face-to-face communication is more beneficial for longer, in-depth conversations.
Of all the ways to communicate from across the globe, video calling feels the most like being there in person. You can see your loved one face-to-face, hear their voice and talk in detail about things you’ve alluded to over messages and social media.
Video calling uses both types of communication identified in Communication Theory (verbal and non-verbal). As a result, you are privy to additional non-linguistic expressions (such as body language, facial expressions and tone of voice) as well as the actual words being spoken. This makes for better overall communication, as you can convey emotions more effectively.
In contrast to social media posts and IMs, video calling takes meticulous planning. Spontaneous calls can be fun, but without planning, you risk excessive background noise or clashing with your loved one’s schedule. By planning ahead, you can account for time differences and work hours, and ensure that there is enough time available for a proper catch-up.
Even with a few hours to chat, it’s a good idea to prioritize conversation points in order to say and ask everything you want to in a limited time. Buffering and technical glitches are also important to consider, as they can make conversations impossible to continue.
By using a combination of social media, instant messaging services and video calling, it is simple to communicate from across the world. Of course, all of these methods require an internet connection (often free in hotels, airports and coffee shops), a device to connect to the internet with (such as a phone or laptop) and an account with each of the service providers (like Facebook or Instagram).
These are not the only ways to communicate globally—you could also send letters and postcards to supplement your communications. Whichever way you choose to stay connected, balance is essential. This could mean talking little but often, or having longer catch-up sessions less frequently; there are different approaches for different people.
The most important thing is that communicating from across the world is not as good as being there in person. However, these tools will get you by until your next visit to see your loved ones again.