So, you decide you want to study abroad and after tons of research you finally settle on the perfect location. It has everything: unique food, unique language, unique culture, and no social media. Wait, what?! You read that right, no social media, which means no Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or pretty much anything else. Sounds like you’re going somewhere similar to China. In China, everything that shares information is blocked: Google, YouTube, Dropbox, WhatsApp, everything listed above, and more. Before you stress out about not being able to connect to life back home, take a deep breath and keep reading.
Two Important Tips on How to Stay in Touch:
Get WeChat (or your country’s equivalent)
Step One: Download WeChat. In China WeChat is Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Venmo, and texting all tied into one. It is pretty much the only way to survive. It is used to transfer money to friends, pay vendors around town, and most importantly keep in touch with everyone. You can message, which includes the popular audio message, post pictures or updates on your moments, and even make free calls over Wi-Fi. Adding friends happens often and is as easy as scanning a QR code. One of the first questions you are asked when meeting a new person is “Do you have WeChat?” The answer is always “yes” because there is no way to be connected to anyone if you don’t! This will help you make connections and friends in your new host country.
Step Two: Tell everyone back home to download WeChat. Typically, when people go abroad they use WhatsApp to connect with people internationally; however, as of July 2017 WhatsApp is blocked in China. This means if anyone wants to communicate with you without spending money on international plans, they must have WeChat. Luckily, this app is fun and easy to use! The best feature is the “Translate” button, which allows you to send messages in the language of your choice. Clicking this button will allow the language to be translated into the language of the person on the other end. Now you can practice your language with anyone you want!
Buy a VPN
If you want to be able to google questions, watch YouTube videos, post the occasional photo on Facebook or Instagram, or keep your Snapstreaks, do not settle for a free VPN app download. Bite the bullet and buy a good VPN. Do some research and find out what VPN works the best for the country you’ll be studying in. I’m using WiTopia and it works wonderfully, most of the time. When you finally select your VPN read the rules and regulations to see if you can share it, if so, you’ll be able to cut the cost in half! If you don’t plan on posting too much, you may be able to squeeze by with a free VPN, but be prepared for disappointment when it doesn’t work. If you don’t plan on posting at all, you can survive without a VPN altogether. Choosing your VPN preference depends on the person. When I was in China for two weeks in high school I had a free app. This time I am paying for my VPN, and Kate, another BCA student, does not have a VPN at all. I use my VPN all the time to stay connected on all forms of social media and especially for Google and Gmail, so it was well worth the money for me.
So What’s It Like Living Disconnected?
Challenging. I’m not going to lie and say that’s its wonderful being disconnected because it definitely gets on my nerves sometimes. Even with a VPN, the cellular data and Wi-Fi connections are pretty bad. If you want to send large files, such as videos, think again. Most of the time, living with limited access is just frustrating because I miss the ease I used to have of sending files at rapid speed. It’s also easy to get annoyed when your VPN doesn’t work. The most annoying aspect of living in China is never knowing when something new will be blocked. When we arrived, WhatsApp worked fine. Unfortunately, after one month we needed a VPN for it to work. I suggest you learn from my mistakes and do extensive research to find out exactly what is blocked before arriving, so you’ll be saved a little stress.
What I’ve Learned
As challenging as life is without the instant connection to home, it’s part of the experience and I would not trade it for anything. If you prepare before you leave, you’ll be less stressed. Inform everyone back home you will have limited access to most things and they shouldn’t expect to hear from you for a while. Bring a pack of playing cards and get ready to have some fun. (Kate – Houghton College & BCA Dalian student – pictured to the right learning how to make a house of cards) Not having the instant ability to go on social media forces you to get involved in everything on campus and it helps you meet people from other countries. You can all bond over the fact that you don’t have access to everything you’re used to. It also forces you to put down your phone once in a while, so you can take in the scenery, instead of constantly updating your story.
So if you’ve chosen to go to a country where access is limited, know that although it’s challenging, it’s worth it! Life is pretty great when you see with your eyes and not your phone.
Emily is a sophomore, International Business Major with a Finance concentration at Elizabethtown College. As a BCA Storyteller studying abroad in Dalian, China, she is excited to experience anything and everything China will throw her way!