I write this post from Seven Mile Beach National Park in Gerroa, Australia. I have no cell service and highly unreliable cellular data, essentially off-grid.
Most other times I wouldn’t mind a getaway to nature, especially one that involves two days of surfing. But being abroad heavily involves digital communication, so the feeling of being without it seems especially noticeable now.
During my study abroad experience so far, I have adjusted in part by relying on phone calls, texts, FaceTime and social media to interact with friends and family, much more so than I normally would. This is saying a lot because I am an out-of-state student with most of my family in New Jersey. My brother is in Michigan, and my sister in Chicago, so there is a lot of FaceTiming and family group chat texting going on during any semester. The differences now, though, can be summarized, for me, in the following ways.
- The international SIM card situation
- Massive time zone differences
- The “Not running into friends regularly” situation
The International SIM Card Situation
A funny thing happens when you switch from an American SIM card to an Australian carrier: iMessage messes up, and you get a whole new phone number. This means that not everyone in your contact list will be able to reach you until you share your new number with them or message first.
It’s interesting because you begin to realize who you talk to most regularly. Those are the people you think to share your number with first. This situation made me realize that there are some people I rarely text, and it made me wonder why. It is also mildly stressful thinking that people might have messaged you and you wouldn’t know for another six months until you put your old SIM card back. (Granted, I’m not even sure if that’s how it works.)
This scenario is unique to the study abroad experience, and it really does make you think and reflect on the people you choose to surround yourself with.
Massive Time Zone Differences
The time zone in Sydney is 14 hours ahead of Austin. Just so you don’t have to do the math, here’s an easier way to think about it: When you’re waking up in Austin, I’m going to bed the same night in Sydney. When you’re going to bed in Austin, I’m waking up the next morning in Sydney.
You can imagine how challenging this makes communication between Austin and Sydney because when one city is starting its day, the other is winding down. I’ve found this time difference to bring a heightened awareness and appreciation for everything my friends and family are doing in their lives. I have to be extra conscious of their schedules so I don’t accidentally wake someone up with a FaceTime in the middle of the night.
Every time I’m about to call or text someone, I must pause for a moment to think about what they’re doing in their time zone. Consequently, I’ve learned to be better at keeping track of other people’s schedules and remembering their events, so I know the best time to reach out.
Not Running Into People Casually
The most obvious difference about being abroad is that I don’t physically see the same people I’d normally see on a regular basis. I don’t run into familiar faces in classes, through similar walking routes to campus, at student organization events or just around Austin.
Something I didn’t expect was how much the absence of these regular interactions, whether by chance or routine, would be felt. Normally, these would be small parts of a regular day that I would probably not think about too much. But in a big new city at a big new university (the University of Sydney is almost twice the size of The University of Texas at Austin, with more than 70,000 students, without knowing more than a handful of people, you notice when these little moments are not as frequent or are missing altogether.
For me, this has meant that when I think of something to tell someone, it must be intentionally relayed. I won’t run into them later in the day or later in the week when I can tell them. In a way, this has brought me closer to friends and family because I find that I reach out more frequently, so I don’t forget the messages or updates I have for them.
Communicating across an ocean is certainly a new dynamic that takes time to adjust to, but despite the initial challenges, I have adjusted to new ways of feeling connected to people. It is such a privilege to be studying in a place as incredible and far away as Australia, and sharing it with the people I am closest to makes it even more special.
This post was contributed by Emily Perna, a Global Ambassador for Fall 2023. Emily is a fifth-year architectural major studying abroad in Sydney, Australia.