Keeping in Touch with Home as a Basel Expat
When I first came to Basel (for what I thought was just a year), in 1998, it was my first time really away from my friends and family back home. Sure, I’d gone to University in a different city, but moving to a foreign country, with a different language was disorienting to say the least! Not knowing anyone outside of work left me lonely and missing home. I’m not sure if you’ve ever been through something similar, or are maybe experiencing it now, but keeping in touch with people from home can be very comforting to the homesick expat!
Whether you know people in Basel or not, it seems likely that you’ll keep in touch with people from home. However, no matter how good your intentions are, it’s important to realize that you won’t be able to give the same amount of attention to some of your relationships as you did before (and to not beat yourself up about it!). You’ll be meeting new friends, the time difference might hinder your efforts to communicate, and keeping in touch can be expensive, not to mention time consuming. This post discusses different ways of communicating with the gang back home.
When you move to Basel, you’ll no doubt arrange for a mobile phone and perhaps a land line. Phone is the most obvious way to keep in touch, but it’s certainly not the most economical! For both a land line and mobile, you’ll have to pay a monthly fee for your phone contract, and while you’ll likely get some free minutes and text messages, it’s a good idea to check your plan carefully, as free minutes often don’t apply to calls and texts outside the country. One way to keep calling costs to a minimum is by using international phone cards. Some phone companies also offer International Direct Dialing (IDD) packages where you pay for a set number of international call minutes. In Basel, these are available at numerous stores throughout the city and are often clearly displayed in shop windows.
Instead of a contract, you can also get pay-as-you-go phone where you re-load the card with credit by purchasing reloads available at most local shops or by having the pre-pay SIM card, linked to your credit card. Don’t forget to think about the time difference when you’re calling internationally…if you accidentally call someone at 3am, you’ll scare them to death!
Voice over internet calls
One of the more recent, least expensive and most personal means you can use to keep in touch are voice over internet service providers (VOIP). These services allow you to speak with people via the internet, with the option of seeing them on video, often free of charge. There are free services available such as Skype, that can be upgraded for a fee. There are also providers who charge for additional features and support services. You’ll need a broadband internet connection, a microphone and speakers (most laptops have these built in) or a headset and a webcam.
While video calling over the internet is very personal, it still feels kind of like a phone call. You have to keep in mind, that the person you are talking to can see you, forcing you to curtail some of your ‘telephone habits’ (like rolling your eyes when someone says something irritating), walking around and multitasking while you talk. Taking a video call in the WC is also a bad idea. Video calling also provides interesting venues for long distance romantic relationships; be careful though, it’s remarkably easy to record a video of onscreen happenings.
Almost everyone (including my 70+ year old parents) have access and can use modern email programs, making it easy to keep in touch. Depending on how fast you type and your ability to express yourself in writing, emails can be an excellent way to keep in touch with almost all your friends and family. You can also send blast emails or a newsletter attachment to long lists of friends family and acquaintances, though this is usually perceived to be less personal, than even a short email to someone in particular. Email is perfect for transcending the timezone issue that makes it tough to keep in touch. If you don’t already have an account, you can sign up for one for free at Hotmail or Gmail.
Social networking sites like Facebook, are great for keeping in touch with family and friends, in an informal manner, as well as to keep in with less important acquaintances that you have lost touch with. Social networks can be used to update people on your location and what you’re doing, to share photos, organize events for when you come home and to send private or group messages. Be sure to adjust the privacy settings on your social network to control who can see you profile, and how much information you want to share with the world.
Platforms like LinkedIn can serve the same function for current and former business colleagues, back home. Many people check social media networks on a daily basis, making them perfect for keeping people abreast of your activities without necessarily contacting them directly, and vice versa!
A blog is short for a ‘web-log’, which is a simple online way for you to keep and share a record of your experiences in a more detailed, thoughtful manner than on a social network. A blog is easy to set up, low cost and the perfect platform for you to share your thoughts, feelings and impressions of your time in Basel. You can share your blog publicly, with a select group of viewers, or you could keep it private, for yourself only. Blogs allow maximum freedom online to share photos and video.
There are lots of blog hosts available. The two that I’ve had the best experiences with are Bluehost and iPage. These have relatively similar functions, and offer really simple blog building tools. I’m using Bluehost for this page at the cost of about 5-6 dollars a month. They offer free installation of WordPress, which is a really user-friendly blogging platform for free, as well as options for other site building tools. I like both these providers so much that I decided to become an affiliate, which means if you click on the links for Bluehost or iPage, and decide to set up an account, I’ll receive a small commission, at no cost to you.
Instant Messenger Services
These programs allow you to text chat in real-time with your friends and family back home. You can have a conversation typing messages back and forth. Instant messenger services are already integrated into social medial platforms like Facebook, as well as into free email services like Gmail and Hotmail.
With most mobile phones being cameras, and all the new things for you to see in Basel, pretty soon you’ll have gigabytes of photos. High resolution photos are large files, and it can be hard to send all of these in an email due to size restrictions. One way to overcome this is to make an online photo album to share with your loved ones. Then you can email out a link to anyone you think may be interested, and give your photos a password, so that they are not visible to the public. Smilebox is one of these providers, but there are also many other such services. Some of these also allow you to add music and captions to you photos, turning them into a digital scrapbook.
Sending gifts home
If you can’t make it home for that special someone’s birthday or for the holidays, you can send back gifts instead! However, mailing packages from Basel is very expensive; as often as not, posting even a small gift costs more than the price of the gift! While less personal, shopping sites like amazon will let you send your gift directly to the house of the people you care about. For additional costs you can also have them gift wrap it and include a note! Amazon has sites based in many countries, so you can have your gift shipped directly from a distributor located in your country of choice. This will save you international postage and handling costs, as well as customs fees.
Posting letters and cards
While phones and computers are the most efficient way to keep in touch, I think that everyone in the world loves to receive a letter or a card by traditional post. You should always do these by hand (not typed then printed) to give it that personal touch. It’s harder, because you can’t edit, delete or change things, but sometimes the nicest way to communicate is to see someone’s raw feelings being expressed, without too much revision. While everyone loves to receive a letter, they are time consuming to write, so you may want to save these for only the most special people in your life, or for special occasions. Letters are also a great way to keep in touch with people without a computer. Getting a return letter back from your loved one in the post will also make your day!
There are numerous post offices across the city, and letters are not too expensive to post. You can send two kinds of letters, Priority or Economy internationally. As the names suggest, Priority mail will cost more and get there faster, while Economy mail will be less expensive, but slower. Many of the clerks at the post offices speak English, and will be able to tell you the cost and approximately how long a letter will take to reach you particular country for each type of mailing option.
I’m sure you have other ways to keep in touch with friends and family; please feel free to share them in the comments section!