Online Lifelines

Remember that time not long ago when long-distance phone calls were reserved for special occasions? Your uncle on the other side of the country would get a nice three minute phone call on his birthday, and your grandmother across the ocean could expect a quick “Merry Christmas” once a year.  Oh how far we have come.  Now with new cable and internet technologies, long distance communication is no longer the family-gathered-’round-the-phone occasion it once was.

Yesterday, as my mother walked me through how to prepare the perfect Easter ham from her respective kitchen miles and miles away via Skype, I considered what it must have been like for expats living so far from their family and friends, just a couple decades ago, before the internet, email, and social media.

When I moved to Germany five years ago, Facebook was in its early stages of popularity.  I was able to keep up with my friends, and often felt I was not really missing out. I received notices for upcoming events, and the next day I was able to view pictures and videos, easily imagining that I had been right there.

Over the years Facebook has evolved, and has extended to just about everyone and anyone.  Now I can keep in touch with aunts and uncles, former teachers, old colleagues, and even grandparents via the versatile website. Further, Facebook is now far from being the simple party picture hub it once was. The multi-functioning social tool can now be used not only to update my people back in Canada about my life overseas, but to watch videos of my best friend getting married, her baby taking his first steps, and take a virtual tour of her new home.  I don’t know the expat life without Facebook and I simply cannot imagine it. The homesickness I felt during my first year in Germany was only manageable due to a cheap long-distance phone plan, and the continued involvement I felt I had in my home life, thanks to Facebook. Five years later, I don’t lean on Facebook quite as much, but it has certainly become woven into my daily routines and I am always glad it’s there

I have also since joined Twitter, and I just love getting instant updates from both my hometown as well as local Swiss news sources.  I am also able to get more involved with causes that are important to me by following groups like PETA, and re-tweeting their messages to my own followers. The main purpose of Twitter for me however, is to keep abreast of current job listings.  As an expat “hockey-wife”, I have to be ready to change cities at just about any moment, and this has made finding any ongoing employment quite a challenge. Via the internet however, and thanks much to Twitter, I have recently found some modest success as a freelance writer, working for various websites and online magazines from Canada, the US, and Europe.  Similarly,  I have also been able to work on my master of arts degree, exclusively online.  Although I am in this expat life due to my partner’s profession, I have been able to utilize the internet in ways that allow me to continue to grow my own education and career, from where ever I may be.

My mother often jokes that she hears more from me when I am in Europe than when I am home visiting her each summer. Skyping with her from Switzerland, when I’m preparing dinner and have forgotten her caesar salad dressing recipe, or calling her from my mobile phone while hiking in the Alps or wandering around a Christmas market, taking a quick pic and sending it to her instantly so she can see what I see, makes the distance between us nearly non existent. Everyone knows that social media and online and mobile communications have changed the world in profound ways, but for us expats specifically, these technologies have created unique lifelines. Living in foreign lands and dealing with foreign languages can make the challenges of daily life feel restrictive, which can make our worlds feel quite small. Through mediums such as Facebook and Twitter however, and with the aid of Skype and inexpensive long-distance calling, our lives can reach beyond our small German villages and above the grand Alps, easily connecting us with back home and beyond.

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