As mentioned in a previous post, we recently went to stay with a friend in Paris. She moved out there just over a year ago and it was interesting to see how she had settled in. Unlike some of my other friends who live abroad in foreign speaking countries, she did not do a language degree or year abroad, so this was her first experience of living outside of the UK. Whilst we were there, we were routinely online using the WiFi in her flat. We watched the Oxbridge Boat Race highlights on YouTube, followed by much debate over the event and the comments our mutual friends had put on Facebook. We then enjoyed a mixture of comedy episodes through her subscription BBC Global iPlayer service.
With this September being the 10th anniversary of my ERASMUS year to La Universidad de Granada (the horror of it being such a massive anniversary has not properly hit home yet…), it got me thinking back to my time living abroad. The technological landscape could not have been more different! Back then, I did have a mobile phone, but it was my old monochrome screened Nokia 3310. I had my own laptop (by today’s standards, a crumby Compac laptop) which only had a dial-up modem in it – ethernet was only just coming to the fore in the UK, and I didn’t take it away with my when I first left anyway. Whilst it was quite usual in the UK for individual homes to have an internet connect (usually dial-up), in Spain, this was not the case. So, having my laptop would have not made any difference anyhow since the flat I ended-up in didn’t even have a phone line, let alone the internet.
Once settled in a flat in Granada, I bought a Spanish SIM for my existing handset. It was really expensive to text abroad though so I would usually swap my UK SIM back in to do that. I think costs have gone down these days, but remain a challenge, just in different ways (see my blog post about data costs abroad). To use the internet, we located internet cafes around the city and established which were our preferred. There happened to be a little one around the corner from us where you could buy ‘internet’ cards for a number of hours – I would typically buy a 10 hour card – which could be used in 15 minute slots. They also had facilities to copy / burn CDs etc at an extra charge (and with a lot of patience!). I would also make international calls from here, so once a week I would mooch down and sit in a little booth to call my Ma & Pa.
Back at the flat, we had TV, but just normal analogue Spanish TV (I assume they have a digital service these days but don’t know about back then). We were fortunate though because our flat has a DVD player! This was quite novel – even back in the UK, DVD players were quite new and the majority of my film collection was still on video. What this did mean though was we could rent DVDs! Our odd flat mate directed us to a local shop where you could hire DVDs for 75 cents / night. 75 cents! Back then it was about 50p – that is insanely cheap. Our flat soon became the hub for our friends because we could take a mental break from ‘all things Spanish’ and watch a film in our wonderful Mother-tongue. However, we were still students and money was money, so for the most part, we enjoyed the over-dubbed American TV and films shown on Antenna 3 in abundance.
Of course, I kept in touch with my friends whilst I was away. We would email one another with interesting news and updates. But back then, email was still used for the ‘quick’ communication, so I would write numerous letters per week and received numerous letters in reply. There was something wonderful about having a physical object in your hand which had been sent to you by a friend. Some of us would even exchange little pictures and drawings too – sometimes it made me homesick but also meant I had a little piece of home.
I will never know what it is like to do a year abroad with all of the technology and social media we have today. In some ways I suspect that you would feel continually in the loop with what was going on back home because of things like Facebook and Twitter. But, on the other hand, it would be very easy to struggle to adapt being constantly in touch with the world back home. I had moments of severe home sickness in Spain – it takes quite a few months to culturally adapt, but back then, you were forced to just immerse yourself in life there and it was the little things (like tea bags and Branston pickle) which were your anchors back to the world you knew. If I were to move abroad as a working adult, I think all of things my friend has today are great and would help keep me sane. But, as a student trying to get the ‘experience’, I think I am glad I had it the way I did.