The Struggle to Stay Connected / Clara Ruth West

Between international plans and time differences, is the struggle to keep in touch with home when in a foreign country really a bad thing after all?

Converter and adapter? Check.
International plan with Verizon? Check.
Phone charger? Check.

At the top of my “to-do” list before leaving for Budapest, I listed everything I would need to ensure I would stay connected to home while in Europe. Literally, I had “call Verizon” ranked above “find passport,” if that tells you anything. As a society, we have made instant connection a priority in our lives, and after packing for a six-week stay in Budapest, it’s clear to me that even I am guilty of putting too much emphasis on communication.

Between the time differences, international charges for data, texts and minutes, and the constant search for Wi-Fi, using a mobile phone is easier said than done. Unless you’re willing to pay (probably too much) for an unlimited data plan, your phone will become more of a last resort than an everyday necessity like it is in the U.S.

That said, though, being somewhat disconnected can be a burden. Brooke Battersby, one of my classmates, has struggled to keep up with her American business. Last week, she had to arrange a Skype interview with a potential client. What would normally be a simple, 30-minute meeting turned into an ordeal. Because of the different time zones, her dinner time and his lunch break was the only option for them both. She had to excuse herself from the table and find a quiet space with Wi-Fi to make a deal.

“While I would have preferred to do it in person, and it was harder than it should have been,” Battersby said, “it was the most efficient way to do what needed to be done.”

Then there’s social media. Every few nights, after going on an adventure to a Hungarian town or stumbling upon a hidden treasure in Budapest, I like to upload a few pictures to Facebook to share with family and friends. But, without an unlimited data plan, I am limited to updating my Facebook friends when on Wi-Fi.

Except that’s the problem … while all social media sites are extremely convenient tools that allow everyone to stay connected no matter the distance, it’s just another example of the discontinuous communication surrounding us. While I love being able to share my trip, it’s just not the same as sitting down with someone, grabbing a cup of coffee and talking their ears off until they can’t take anymore.

Is being “disconnected” really even a struggle? As I was gathering my thoughts about this story and asking for other opinions, the general consensus was, despite the challenges, being separated from home is a nice change. There isn’t any pressure to keep in contact with old friends back home, and we can focus on the new friends living a few meters away.

Regardless, communication is both important and essential. Being in a different country obviously comes with its own set of challenges, but it’s not impossible to make it work. I can only speak for myself, but I can safely say another trip to Europe isn’t in the near future. An important take-away from this trip would be to enjoy the time you have while you’re here because it doesn’t happen for long and doesn’t happen often.

While my time in Budapest is quickly coming to an end, I’ve challenged myself to live in the moment – take lots of pictures, take in the sights, take advantage of new friends. Instead of searching for the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot, I want to look for the nearest sight to see or restaurant to try. While I’ve got a lifetime to spend back home, my days here are numbered.

Ultimately, I would hate to let a constant desire to stay connected keep me from getting the most out of this experience. Friends and family can follow along with my journey through our WordPress blog and YouTube videos – a beauty of instant connection. Hopefully my social media presence will entertain everyone until I return home.

While I checked converter and adapter, international plan and phone charger off my to-do list before leaving, my to-do list for the last two weeks is as follows:

Coffee shops? Check.
Buda Castle? Check.
Thermal baths? Almost check.

Maybe the struggle to stay connected with people back home isn’t such a struggle after all … One thing’s for sure – I cannot wait to share my pictures with friends and family when I return, but in the meantime, I cannot wait to soak in every second of the last few days.

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