With the introduction of the internet and smartphones, physical distance has become a significantly less imposing barrier. Despite being over 6,000 miles away from home, I often find myself needing to contact home and maintain relationships from abroad. Whether I am keeping in touch with family and friends, reaching out to advisors, or participating in clubs at my home University, I feel as though I am constantly trying to juggle being in two places at once. I think most people have experienced exhaustion from trying to keep in touch with family and friends. Since Tokyo’s time zone is 14 hours ahead of Chicago, there is a very small window in which both me and my friends and family are awake at the same time. The slim overlap occurs in the early mornings when I am usually getting ready for/in the middle of attending class. There is also a small window at night for me to reach out to everyone, but this is usually the time I dedicate to studying. It is for this reason that trying to call home daily is nearly impossible. Of course I still try calling when I can, but there are other ways to keep in touch with everyone without having to call.
The main tool I have used is social media. I have created social media profiles available only to my friends and family in which I can freely post pictures and videos of what I am doing day to day. This keeps them constantly aware of what is happening with me, and it helps me because it allows me to not have to constantly spend time “catching-up” with everyone every time I speak to them.
It might sound a bit silly, but another way I keep in touch with people is through games. I have made many friends through playing high school and collegiate chess, and when I spend the time playing games of chess it makes me feel more connected and present. Nowadays chess can be played online and there is the option to play correspondence games where we are given several days to make a move, so the time zones are never a factor. I also participate in a fantasy football league with many of my friends, and similarly to chess it is a way for me to keep connected with everyone.
What can be tricky to deal with is remaining active in clubs at my home University. The two clubs I wanted to try to remain active in while abroad were the UIC Chess Club and SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine.) I have no way of attending any chess club meetings in person, but I have still made the effort to play in the online tournaments our club participates in. These tournaments are held Saturday at noon US Central time which means I have to wake up at 3am Sunday morning to play. I won’t say its been easy, but it is doable. When it comes to SJP I have remained in contact with the members of the club, and have made everyone aware of my willingness to help in any way I can from abroad. Although I have not been called upon yet, since much of our work can require research and writing I know I can be of some assistance in the near future.
The most important thing I have realized about staying connected with my friends and family at home is to not take away from my connections abroad. Through these efforts I feel as though I have struck a healthy balance between staying connected at home while experiencing the most I can abroad.