Sunday, June 5, 2011

As an Expat how do you communicate?

As expats we are far away from the ones we love (maybe distance does make the heart grow fonder), our communication systems of today however do make our loved ones within our grasp even across the miles.

Having left home 3 years ago to follow the road of the expat for the very first time, those first few weeks away from home were the worst of my life.  We had sold almost everything, the beautiful home that I had spent 3 years renovating, our investment flats, our weekend home at the dam with our speed boat, the new plot at a much bigger dam that was meant to be our retirement home, and bits and pieces of furniture that we were not taking with us.  Everything gone in less than 6 weeks, our lives sold up and never to be returned to.  We were not only becoming expats but we were moving our family out of a country that we felt had no future for them.  We packed up our container with the bits and pieces we felt we had to hold onto, said our final goodbyes to our family and friends at the airport and boarded the plane to our new lives.

Little did I realize how lonely those first few months were going to be, we were in the midst of summer vacation, everyone had taken their leave and gone home to visit their families and we were sitting in 45 – 50C degree heat.  The kids had no one to play with, other than themselves and their 30 odd year old mother, we had no car, no clue where to go and have fun, no initial internet connection, no household help, and heat that was suffocating.  To say we were not very happy campers would be under estimating  the situation.  Imagine a polar bear at the equator, and that is probably half of how awful the experience was for us.

Then suddenly we were given a lifeline, the internet was installed in our villa, we were like children in a candy store, the possibilities were endless. My laptop became my communication tool out to the world.  Skype, Facebook, gmail, (email, call phone and chat), msn, yahoo, (email, phone and chat), then what about the Blackberry (where once you have a BB account you can text anyone anywhere in the world for no cost), then there is just the normal texting where there is a cost via your cell phone (these are only a few ways of communicating), all of these became my friends.  I skyped my best friend every day to get a piece of normality into my daily life.   My friend who I had gone to gym with every day  and shared a coffee chat with afterwards was gone, and now once again we could chat with a coffee in hand across the miles. She was my godsend for those first few weeks.  

Although my parents were not on Skype, we ensured that on our next visit home they were connected and up and running so that we could have visual contact with them whenever we could, which was also a godsend when my mother was diagnosed with cancer.  My ritual is to sms my mother and say, I am on skype tonight, 7pm your time 8pm mine…. Be there and we can have  a nice long chat.  All my sisters and friends are connected too and if we don’t get to skype we sure get to catch up via Facebook, be it with photos of what has been happening in their lives or merely a status update.  Little happens without me knowing about it the same day.

I sometimes think of those people who are on their adventures as expats in the Congo, or the Amazon or a remote island in the Pacific, where the internet has no connection, cell phones are foreign and satellite phones are the most likely way to communicate.  That connection to the outside world is of such importance to keep your sanity intact, it is interesting to imagine not having some form or communication around to have contact with your loved ones.

And let’s be clear, it is not only for expats but for people who find themselves living in another part of the country to those of their loved ones.  The East Coast USA versus the West Coast USA, North Australia vs South Australia, the miles are vast and the need for communication with loved ones will never fade. 

So what is your form of communication across the miles?? 

Denise is an Expat, Mom, Wife and Marketing Manager at a website that provides cost of living index information and calculates what you need to earn in a different location to compensate for cost of living, hardship, and exchange rate differences. The complete cost of living rank for all 300 locations for all 13 baskets is available here.

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