Living and working abroad in China for almost two years now has been completely life-changing. It's been a whirlwind of non-stop adventures, and I have my new friends in China to thank for that. But I never forget where I come from; my family that brought me up and my childhood friends that have shaped me. Sometimes being here away from childhood friends and family members, makes it seem like I'm on a different planet. Luckily, there are many ways to keep in touch with friends and relatives back home.
I'll talk about my favourite methods of communicating with my loved ones on the other side of the world, who are quite literally 12 hours behind me.
My grandmother is one of the most special people in my life. Ever since my siblings and I were young, we would handwrite notes; thank you cards at Christmas and even letters updating her on our latest achievements or big life decisions. I have been able to continue this tradition, even from the other side of the world, by sending letters along with photos of all my exciting adventures straight to her mailbox. If you're a fan of traditional and more meaningful forms of communication, then head down to your nearest China Post (they are EVERYWHERE, even outnumbering Starbucks if you can believe that) and post a letter to your Grandma to brighten up her day! It can be busy, and it's not always clear how long it will take to reach its destination, but the service is inexpensive. If you're lucky, there will be an English speaking assistant available to talk you through the process.
If your local China Post is too busy or your message is a little more urgent, or maybe you just can't deal with leaving your cosy bed, then you can achieve a similar result by sending an e-mail! Attach your photos and send that message with a single click. Note: If you are using Gmail then you may need a VPN.
We all use WeChat in our daily lives for… well, everything! Whether it's ordering a taxi, paying our phone bills, transferring money or just showering friends with stickers. But did you know that you can use it to “chat” as well? I know. Mind = Blown. But seriously seeing as it's such a big part of our lives, what better way to keep in touch with our loved ones than convincing them to download this Swiss army app for themselves! This is easier said than done, but once you have successfully won them over to the WeChat side, they will never look back. You can type, voice note, phone call and even video call your family without needing to worry about the “Great Firewall of China” restricting your internet usage.
If you are the proud owner of an iPhone, then you're in luck! China approves of Apple products and therefore, unlike some of the Android devices from back home (which tend to use Google for many of their functions), are not restricted by internet blocking. FaceTime is an excellent alternative to WeChat when you need some face-to-face communication with your loved ones (particularly those that can't/won't download WeChat).
Although Skype is not blocked in China, I have found the connection to be unreliable and unstable with calls sometimes being dropped and having to reconnect. This can become frustrating which is not what you want when trying to catch up with your family. Having said that, this application is used by many businesses for a variety of reasons so, depending on your internet connection, you may have better luck than I have!
Most forms of social media that we use back home are restricted/blocked in China including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and anything associated with Google. There are ways around the great firewall, but the authorities are slowly cracking down on these workarounds. For now, you can still use Social media, and these social media apps are an excellent way to stay in touch with your social network at home by posting pictures and videos of your travels (and making all of your friends disgustingly jealous).
Some of the more creatively inclined expats have set up a blog to keep a record of all of their China adventures. If you are a blogger or would like to give it a go, this is an excellent way to share your experiences with your friends and family.
So there you have it! These are just a few of the convenient ways to communicate with your friends and family back home.