A foreign student’s survival guide in a digital age…

Posted on November 4, 2010


About one year and two months ago I made my move to the United States of America to pursue my masters degree in new media at Indiana University’s Bloomington campus. The idea of being a foreign student has always been romantic to me and I imagined myself being the center of attention whilst inquisitive locals asked me whether South Africa has lions roaming its city streets or  not. My experience has been true to my expectations for the most part but as a family man I also like keeping in touch with my close-ones which is why social media is integral in nurturing my personal relationships. So here are my top social media resources for surviving as a foreign student.


It goes without saying that Facebook has become the go-to communication tool in the last five or so years of the Web2.0 era. This social networking site is no longer the sole domain of Ivy League students but is now home to individuals as diverse as businessmen, high school kids, organizations and social clubs. Within Facebook you find tools which have a lot of uses

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase


for communicating whether publicly (wall posting) or privately (messaging and chat). The asynchronous nature of the messaging ser



vice (similar to email) helps me negate the seven hour time difference between my country and my temporary home so that conversations between my former colleagues, friends and my two sisters (and many cousins) won’t be disturbed by either of us having to go to bed as is often the case.

Pictures on Facebook also allow me to keep up with the many changing states of my loved ones so when the day comes and that giant iron bird lands on the tarmac of OR Tambo International, they’ll be no aesthetic surprises for me.

But while it’s great sharing my overseas adventures with my younger family members and friends, I wouldn’t be as happy if some of my more risque pictures (me at parties holding the odd beer or two) would make it to my mother’s laptop and I have to thank my privacy settings for preventing that. Instead I opt to share images via other means.

Flickr or Picasa…it’s your choice

I have been a Flickr member since 2006 and while I do have my gripes with the service (something I will be writing about more than you can handle) it is a great online platform for sharing pictures with friends and other interested parties. I st

Going downstream
Image by siyafrica via Flickr


arted out using Flickr to showcase my travels in the Western Cape when I was studying my honors degree in journalism and since then I have purchased a pro account (just $25 a year) to add more capacity as well to allow for more uploading with my increased travelling and photobug tendencies. You don’t have to be a member to see someone’s pictures (though you have to be one to comment on them) but being able to show my parents some of the shots I took around Bloomington is worth it enough.

Picasa on the other hand is much more suited to those who want to share their images with a group of friends of family and the great thing is that it’s free to those who have Google accounts; so you can synch your Gmail with your Picasa web albums. The platform is more people orientated than Flickr which tends to focus on the photography community so I’d suggest it for those who just want to upload pictures for family and friends to see and wouldn’t necessarily want comments from random users.

Your voice over the Internet…

Voice over IP services such as Skype, iChat and GoogleVoice are great at allowing you to speak with people living at far d

Image representing Skype as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase


istances for as little as a couple of cents per minute if not free at all. I have weekly Skype chats with my family and friends at the cost of a good Wifi connection for my laptop and a decent 3G connection on theirs. And with the announcement of Skype 5.0 for Mac going beta today we’ll see a lot more features being introduced such as group video chats and a simpler design for Macbooks.

GoogleVoice is also a useful service for those living on the opposite sides of the country in its ability to allow you to call mobile phones for free from your computer. So for those who like to speak for long on the phone or have already maxed out your call plans this is a great substitute to use when you care about audio cues in your conversations.

Taking it old school…

Yet with all these resources you also cant cut out at least one relic from snail mail age being the good ol’ postcard. These pieces of cardboard my take weeks to arrive at their final destination, or even get lost on the way, but they are a must if you are travelling to varios locations. They allow you to send a personalized memento from your travels to the ones you care about and are life-lasting if you ask me.


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