International students connect across continents, time changes

Frank Yonkof

For Fikir Mesfin, junior chemistry major, taking advantage of technology is one way she can afford to stay in contact with her parents back in Ethiopia.

“At one point, their phone bill was like $3,000 [in Ethiopian currency],” Mesfin said.

With international calls leading to skyrocketing telephone bills, many international students are looking to social media and changing video technology to stay in touch with family and friends overseas.

“All of my friends are all around the world,” said Sneha Jose, Kent State’s senator for international students. “Skype is definitely the easiest way to do it. That’s just how technology is impacting people.”

Although Skype, one of the Internet’s leading video chat services, lets users place free international calls, the quality can be sketchy at times.

“The thing with Skype, sometimes the connection is really annoying,” Mesfin said. “It gets interrupted.”

Mesfin’s parents were aware of the $32 per-minute calling rate, but were still adjusting to having all four children move to America and were willing to pay the high rate for the first month. After that, they quickly found Skype.

Because of the eight-hour time difference, Mefin only Skype’s her parents on weekends. She doesn’t have a webcam so her parents can only hear her voice, even though she can see them.

While Skype remains a popular alternative for expensive calls, some international students like Jose don’t feel as comfortable video chatting with their parents.

“For my parents, I would pretty much be giving them directions,” said Jose, senior industrial technology major. “I guess I’m not sure why. It’s just one of those things. I would rather talk to my friends online.”

Jose does feel comfortable using Skype with her siblings though, but prefers to use Facebook chat, where the conversations with her sister can happen without being planned in advance.

Among Chinese students, social media sites have become a primary way of communicating with family and friends back home.

“We Chinese students prefer to use,” said Tommy Huang, a second-year accounting student. “It’s very popular in China.” is similar to Facebook, and lets users upload photos and videos for their friends to see. It even lets users video chat with one another.

Although international calls can be expensive, most exchange students do have mobile phones. Jose helps out with orientation at the beginning of the school year and sees how eager the new students are to get their hands on a cell phone.

“The first question they ask is, ‘how can I get a cell phone,’” said Jose.

Since many international students don’t have a credit history, Jose said most choose T-Mobile. The store is within walking distance and they can pay month-to-month, as opposed to other companies where down payments from $100 to $500 are required.

The university does give international students a free calling card credited with $1.60, but Jose used it up after a 25-minute phone conversation with her parents.

Over the last few years, Jose and many of the other international students have switched their communication habits to adapt with changing technology. She still credits Internet as her primary form of communication.

“It’s definitely bridged a lot of gaps,” she said. “If there was no Internet, I don’t think I would even be here because that’s how I found out about the university.”

Contact Frank Yonkof at [email protected].