Staying connected while studying abroad

Alicia Kalnawat profile image April 12, 2024 | 4 min read

Studying abroad can be a great experience for lots of reasons. You get to immerse yourself in a different culture, push your limits and learn about yourself in a place you might not be familiar with that uses a language you don’t know.

However, it can also come with some significant hurdles. Mainly, how do you communicate with your loved ones back home? Well, there are a number of ways you can stay connected to the people you love. Let’s go over them.

The cellular conundrum

While you’re looking at study abroad programs, the first thing that may hold you back is “will my phone work in Europe or whatever country I’m going to?” The answer actually depends on your phone model, but modern smartphones usually have the required cellular bands to work in most places.

The main thing you need to do is make sure your phone is unlocked. Contact your U.S. carrier to do so. Once you do that, you’ll be able to get a SIM card to use while you’re abroad. And yes, getting a SIM card is usually the best option. Even better, most new smartphones utilize eSIM technology that doesn’t require you to physically install a SIM card.

Using an eSIM is easy. Many carriers simply provide you a QR code you can scan to start the eSIM process. You’ll just need to confirm a couple details and after a couple minutes you’ll be activated and ready to go.

You could use services like Google Fi or your carrier’s international calling plan, but those can be costly over the course of a couple months. Instead, use a carrier located near your study abroad program. It’s a better deal and you’ll get a local number you can use.

What about international calling?

A local SIM card may help you make calls in your study abroad country, but what about your loved ones back at home? Won’t it be more expensive to call them abroad? The short answer is yes, using your new SIM card to call home would get expensive. There are a couple things you can do to make it much more affordable.

The first is to keep your U.S. cell phone plan active. Modern smartphones allow you to have multiple phone numbers, making this possible. Most carriers allow you to make and receive calls from U.S. phone numbers for free. This will allow your loved ones to check in on you while you’re out and about, despite whatever time difference sets you apart.

The second is to use your calling apps of choice. FaceTime and WhatsApp rely on data you can use over Wi-Fi®, which means you don’t have to drain your data allowance to stay in contact with people. Plus, FaceTime and WhatsApp video calls can give you an added dimension when staying in contact with your friends and family back home. You can see the joy on your mom’s face or your adorable nephew’s smile.

Either way, there are many ways to make international calls without breaking the bank as you study abroad. Of course, both of these options come with drawbacks. One, FaceTime is only supported on Apple devices like iPhone, iPad and Mac. WhatsApp requires your friends and family to download the app too, which some people might not want to do.

How to actually study while studying abroad

We get it, study abroad is exciting. New places, new food, new friends. However, it’s important to remember that you do need to study while you’re abroad. It’s not just a months-long vacation, there’s work to do!

While smartphones can be a great way to stay connected, they can also be a terrible way to stay productive. They can impede on your studying time, distracting you from vital work that’ll keep you from taking the most advantage of your study abroad experience.

So what can you do? Well, you can take a page out of our friend Sammy’s book. While studying abroad, she uses retro phones to cut out the clutter of modern communication to keep things simple.

@skzzolno i don’t know if i will ever live in a space without an ooma home phone again… i love them 💋💋 #ooma #homephone #vintagetech #ad ♬ original sound – sammy k

Here’s what to do. Purchase a retro phone that doubles as some excellent room décor and then pair that with phone service and a base station from a company like Ooma, which also comes with a mobile app. Both the retro phone and the app allow you to call back home while avoiding crazy international calling fees from local providers.

When it’s time to put your head down and start studying, you simply text your friends and family back home and give them the number to your retro phone with Ooma home phone service. Then turn off your smartphone and put it away. Pro tip: For best results, lock it up in a box or a bag to make it that much harder to use on a whim.

Your friends and family back home will know your smartphone is off, and if they need to contact you they can just call up your retro phone with Ooma home phone service. This is especially useful if there’s an emergency and someone needs to reach you ASAP. You’re staying connected while cutting out the clutter of notifications, tags and texts.

Study abroad, stay connected

Study abroad programs are a great experience, and it could be filled with memories you cherish for the rest of your life. And just because staying connected is a little more difficult doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it. As we’ve gone over, there are plenty of ways for you to stay connected while studying abroad. Bon voyage!