Don’t Skype Your Friends

By: Tess Hubbeling | Feb 06, 2014 | 1193 Views Life |

Before I left for abroad, I said goodbye to all my friends. I said goodbye to my family, my house, my hometown, and I took an embarrassing number of pictures of my dogs to look at while I was away. After all, I was flying across an ocean to spend the semester in Spain, and I would be far away and out of touch with everyone and everything I loved.

I left home with the semi-romantic, semi-terrifying dream of being far apart and alienated from my American life, of disappearing across an ocean to an unknown locale that carried a here-there-be-dragons mystique in my mind, where I would have adventures that I would describe with great drama and theatrical reenactments when I returned after four long months of exotic exile….

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Facetiming with my very confused dogs

And then I got to Granada and texted my parents via iMessage to let them know I had landed safely. When I got to my host family’s house and began to unpack, I emailed my sister to chide her for stealing my favorite sweater. I got on Facebook and all my friends were online, and I gabbled at them excitedly about how nice my host mom was, how scary and exciting it was to meet all these new people. I Skyped my parents and had them hold my dogs up in front of the screen. If it weren’t for the sheer geography of the situation, I wouldn’t have felt far away at all.

Something about the ease of this connection led me to make an idiotic choice; instead of launching myself wholeheartedly into my very short time in Spain, I lived on the fine line between my two worlds, home and Granada.  I deluded myself into believing that I had managed to go abroad while also living in Claremont and not missing a step in the place I had not felt ready to leave–but instead, I became a ghost in both worlds. My idiocy is obvious; if I was so keen to be living my Claremont life, why had I taken the trouble and the expense to go all the way to Spain?

Luckily for me, I was in a place that was so wildly intriguing (where isn’t?) that it became impossible to stay unengaged with the world around me. It drew me out.

And once I started to see what I had been missing, I decided to quit Skyping entirely. I stopped communicating with the same regularity that had governed my first few weeks. My requisite study abroad blog lay abandoned. I stayed in contact with some friends via email, but I saw a distinct difference between Skype and emailing: I could email someone while sitting at a cafe in the middle of the city, whereas Skype required me to ensconce myself in my room and peer at my computer for hours at a time, shutting out the world around me. The unexpected benefit of cutting off the majority of my contact with home was that my homesickness decreased significantly–perhaps I had managed to achieve some sort of “out of sight, out of mind” situation, but whatever the case was, I made better friendships, learned more about the city, and felt more comfortable in Granada then I had originally once I made the choice to disconnect.

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The plaza by my abroad center, Plaza Nueva

It wasn’t just the allure of Granada that drew me out; it was also the unique sense of urgency I began to feel when I was abroad. The funny thing about being abroad is that it’s like life compressed. You have four months to start and live and end a life in a new place, and thus everything has a sense of urgency quite different from life at home, where there’s always a next year (whether that’s a good attitude or not is an argument for another day). Every day I found myself thinking I must go to that cafe tonight or I must talk to that person now because I’m leaving in 100, 30, 9 days…and I might, if I’m unlucky, never come back. It made sitting at a computer talking about doing things instead of going out and doing them seem wasteful.

The choice I made to stay mostly out of touch has not been without its moments of regret and doubt; sometimes, when I talk to people who I spoke to maybe once or even not at all in the past half year, I find myself wondering at the sheer volume of things that have occurred in that time, and question if by virtue of disconnecting myself I have opened a permanent rift. There are stories from abroad that no one but the people who were there with me know, and that I will probably never tell to most of my friends, either because the right question will never be asked or because it will simply slip through the cracks of conversation. Sometimes, I think that’s sad, and I wish I could explain everything about Granada to the people I love, and walk them through every day of my time there. But sometimes I find the mystery of it beautiful. Some of the things that happened are mine and mine alone, and that’s both lonely and lovely.

I am sure there are people who feel that the only way they survived abroad was via the technology which has made it so easy. Perhaps if I had been nursing a long distance relationship, it would have been a different story. But I think that everyone should at least try letting go of home while they’re abroad. Just to see what happens.

About the Author

Tess Hubbeling is the Editor-in-Chief of the Forum. She is a senior majoring in PPE. She's also the RA of Wohlford and plays lacrosse for the Athenas. Her two most common hobbies are working (aka people-watching) at the Hub or walking to the Farmer's Market to buy flowers.

  • ThirdCultureKid

    I definitely agree with this, not only in terms of study abroad but in general. Growing up, I moved back to my home country from living abroad for some years and hated it. I would rush home from school to Skype my old friends until I went to sleep and thus I wasted a good 6 months completely isolating myself from the new opportunities it had provided me with. While I did eventually move back abroad, I wish I hadn’t spent so much time on Skype pretending that I had never left or missed out on anything. I think it’s important to live where you physically are, even if it means missing out or potentially growing apart with people you’ve left behind, but hey, there will always be new people to meet and new places to see.