How to keep contact with your friends and family during your exchange

PLEASE READ THIS POST ON MY NEW DOMAIN

... and how not to

As a returnee, there are many advises I can give you. And you have probably heard all of them.
“Enjoy your exchange, it is the best year of your life, make the most of it” etc etc. But the reality of an exchange is often harder than it seems. People keep telling you to have a good time, while in fact you might be having a really hard time. You miss home, you miss your friends and if you could you would Skype with them all the time.

Don’t.

Instead try to keep in mind the following when keeping contact with your family.

 Avoid constant contact with your friends and family back home

I know this seems harsh, but the fact is that being in contact with home constantly will not only keep you away from the experience of being there, it will also make the homesickness much and much worse. Yes it may seem to help at first, but in reality it will only make you realize that what you have back home that you don’t have in your host country. And yes, you might not have friends that know you completely. Your host family might not understand you at all times. But that is the experience. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity and you should – yes, I will say it again – make the most out of it. photo-1414604582943-2fd913b3cb17

Regulate/schedule the times on which you Skype with your friends and family 

Does that mean you can never talk to your loved ones? Of course not. But keep it regulated. Make a schedule and don’t talk to them more than once every few days. Having a fixed time for talking to your friends and family back home might help you feel more calm, because instead of every time you miss them you will talk and using the contact as some kind of drug, you are regulating it.

Write a blog

Sometimes you just have all these thoughts and emotions that you want to share with people – or maybe not. One thing I can definitely recommend from my exchange is keeping a blog.

Why?

First of all, because everyone can read it. That means you don’t have to tell your mother, aunt, cousin, friends and neighbours all individually what exactly you did that weekend. This will safe you a lot of time in unnecessary conversations on social media. If you don’t your feelings to be out in the open, you can always keep an email list and send it to everybody personally.

Another reason why keeping a blog is great is because later you can read it back and remember all the little details of your exchange, which is great! (Trust me, you will forget about 80% of what happened)

In the end you will probably not write on your blog as often as you’d like, but that’s okay. You can even just make smaller updates of maybe 100 or 200 words. Any update will be read with a lot of joy back home and keeps them updated on how you are doing.

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Write letters

Another great way of writing off your emotions is to write letters. During your exchange you will probably start appreciating your friends and family much more than you did before. Let them know!

Let’s face it, it doesn’t get more personal than a letter. I think every time I received a letter from my mother I cried, no matter what she wrote down, and I know she had the same reaction to my letters. You just don’t get that kind of intimacy through a Whatsapp message.

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Don’t tell them about all the times you are feeling down

I know you want to tell them. You want to tell someone you know (and someone who knows you) but the truth is, when you are having a good time you will probably not tell them. Not so explicitly. That means that in the end, parents get worried, friends think you are having a bad time while in fact, you are probably only having a bad time when you are talking to them.

It happened to me that a lot of people started sending me messages asking me if I was alright. Apparently I had told my mom I was having a hard time, but that feeling passed. Not for my mom. And when my family asked her how I was doing, she told them what I had told her; that I was having a bad time. By the time the messages reached me I had already forgotten that I was feeling down the days before.

In conclusion, it is very hard for your family to know what is going on. They don’t know the cultural context and they don’t know the experience of studying abroad. The information you give them is always limited and that’s all they get, and although it might seem comforting your parents or friends are probably the last people who are going to understand what you are going through. 

My parents often tried to give me well-meant advice. “Can’t you just..” “But why don’t you just.. “. No, actually it is not that easy and it is hard to explain that to someone who hasn’t been there.

Remember it is only for a limited period of time

And although that might seem like an eternity right now, time will pass by extremely fast and before you know it you are back home on the couch with your parents. Only you don’t have so many things to tell them, because you already told them everything when you were there. In your exchange, as in life, there is only one certainty: it will end! Once you are back home you are going to wish you had spent less time on the internet talking to the people you would eventually talk to again and more time talking to the people around you.

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10 thoughts on “How to keep contact with your friends and family during your exchange

  1. I am doing my exchange year in Taiwan right now. This hits me right in the feel. Recently, I am constantly using Facebook as if I was addicted, to desperately contact with my friends. They are having a holiday this week and I want to join them so badly. My experiment in the lab doesn’t go the way I want, making it more intolerable. You are right. It feels utterly pathetic to do so. Embrace your loneliness, seek solitude and you will understand yourself whom nobody in this life could. Thank you.

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  2. Hi!
    I made an exchange year in Germany in 2014, and let me tell you, the struggles are still here, is like and exchange again… at home!. And there is one thing I kind of regret… I always say I needed one or two more months, the same amount of time I lost because of I was shy or was talking to much with friends of my homeland. If someone is reading this, and they are doing and exchange.. guys, make every second count. You will miss it all at the end.

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  3. I did exactly that: Had an scheduled time to talk to my family (in the beginning anyways), at first once a week and then slowly less. At some point I went 4 months or so without talking with my mom through Skype (only short emails were exchanged). I don’t regret any single bit of it. I was plenty conscious of my limited time in my host country and I wanted to be fully there instead of “being” home virtually.
    Point is, I am sure that contributed to my not being homesick at all during my exchange as well as to my becoming part of the community and setting I was in.
    On my coming back I did stick to social media because I didn’t want to miss out on things in my host country, and I think that made it even harder to be back home and away of people who had become part of my family.

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  4. May I also add to your fine piece, as a three time host parent and volunteer, please try to limit your time with other exchange students in your area. You probably arrived with a group of other students and you feel a strong bond with them, but spending too much time with them can detrimental to the entire experience. Try to limit your contact with the other exchange students and make an effort to meet local kids in your area. Yes, it is easy to hang with the other exchange students because you are all going through the same experiences, but it won’t help you in the long run.

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  5. Thank you so much for all these posts about exchanging. I’m about to go on an exchange year myself (this August) and I have so many mixed feelings about it… Every time I get a new email I hope it’s from my organization. I cling on to every piece of information on my exchange year I get, I can’t wait to get a host family, etc, etc.
    At the same time though, I feel so scared. I’m leaving everything behind, including my parents, the people I love most in the entire world. I’m scared I’ll be homesick.
    But your posts make me see the reality of an exchange year! Yes, it’ll be hard, but it’ll be so worth it too. I know that. After all, I’m the one who wants this, right?
    Sorry if I’m just rambling on, I just want to say: thank you and please keep writing more.
    Love,
    Rose

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    • Hey Rose,

      Thank you so much for your comment! I am so glad I can be of help and you are right; it is not going to be easy but it is going to be worth it!

      Also, soon I will be deleting this website. My site continues as http://www.NationalityUnknown.com, where I have the same posts and more! Please check it out and like the Facebook page if you want to stay updated!

      In the mean time, good luck on your exchange! I wish you all the best!

      Love,
      Amarens

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