Sunday, May 12, 2013

How I communicate with the Motherland, or, how I keep in touch with America

I'm not the best person to catch on the phone. Where I lived before in the US, my cell phone's reception was horrible (darn Sprint! I need to write a rant about that company later; I don't recommend them, for many reasons). Anyway. It was rather difficult to actually have me pick up when the call came in since my phone usually wouldn't even ring or the call would drop as soon as I picked up, anyway.

Also, I was super busy with work (two jobs), volunteering, taking German lessons, and having fun with friends. I'm the kind of person who, if I'm doing something (especially with friends), I won't be rude and take a phone call for an extended time and ignore the people I'm with. I'm more of a excuse-me-while-I-answer-this, then I tell the person that I'm out and about and can I call back later. Or, most of the time, I just let the call go to voicemail. That's what it's for, right?

As a result of this, I'm not known for being very reachable by phone. Want to talk to me? Email or text. That's the way to go. Or, even better yet, let's just hang out in person and catch up, which is so much better!

It is still nice to have a voice conversation once in a while, though, especially now that I live so far from home. I had to find a way to do this. I only have my cell phone (no landline), so this is how I maintain contact with the Motherland (and most often, my Mother).

I use Skype, which is really nice because it's free. We both set up accounts and can talk for hours through our computers and the internet connection. We usually just do voice calls because sometimes Skype hiccups with video calls if the connection gets bogged down. Heck, Skype is so useful that I even interviewed for my current job with it!

The one problem I have is trying to reach people on Skype without an "appointment." My family doesn't stay logged into Skype or sometimes our schedules don't sync up because of the time difference. I need to have a way to actually call people to tell them to go onto Skype. It would be insanely expensive to call the US on my cell phone (I have a pay as you go plan so while it's cheap for limited usage, it would be expensive for anything beyond that). I plan to buy some calling credit on Skype where I can use Skype through the data plan on my phone or use wireless internet to call landlines in the US. This is where Skype would cost money, but it's still really reasonably priced.

Another calling service is Viber, which I've heard good things about but haven't used yet. It's similar to Skype.

A coworker set up a VoIP phone at home through Vonage, a powerhouse of VoIP. She had a US number so people could call her and she could call them in the US for standard US rates. Since I'm pretty much never home, that solution doesn't work well for me, but it did for her.

I also downloaded an app called Whatsapp. It allows me to text anyone in the world who also has Whatsapp. It works more like an IM service, I guess, but your "user name" would be your phone number. It's free for the first year then 99 cents for the next. It works really well and it's even what I use to text my friends locally since paying for regular texts is so expensive. It just uses the data plan on your phone, but it really doesn't use much data. We can send pictures and even create group texts.

As a result of all of these great free (or low-cost) services, I've used for my phone very little for what it's actually intended for: to make phone calls. Instead, it's more like a mini computer that I use to make VoIP calls and email or text friends.

I'm totally okay with that. 


  1. Actually until recently Viber was more similar to Whatsapp than to Skype. It was only available as smartphone application to text/call contacts if you have 3G / Wi-fi connection. And somehow it doesn't felt like application to me, but more like a second sms channel on my iPhone, it was so smooth. Plus it automatically finds any of your phone contacts, who joins in and adds them. Now they offer installer for Mac/Windows and I think its great.

    Skype is also my main means of communication with my mother, but I will ask her to install Viber as well so she can send me sms to my 3G-connected smartphone. I just feel more comfortable knowing that she can reach me anytime.

  2. Whatsapp is really smooth for integration like that, too. I need to try out Viber.