Which Way 99: student file: keeping in touch

friends and family are always close if you get your act together
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Indy Lifestyle Online
There are four main ways to contact your loved ones, all of which have advantages and disadvantages (which you'll have to judge for yourself). Here we go, then. Take notes or you'll forget it all.

If you want to write to a friend at another university/college this is completely free. Yes, FREE. All you have to do is register with the computer department and you get free access to e-mail. If you're worried about showing yourself as an utter Internet dunce, don't be. There will be people who'll help you through those first awkward cyber-minutes. However, as it's so convenient, the demand for e-mail is quite high, so booking the use of a computer may well be necessary. Once you've organised yourself, though, the freedom of e-mail is fab.

Angela is a Theatre and English student and she e-mails her family and friends at home in America. "It's free, instant and easy to use," she says. "I've even got my own website where I can leave messages for all my friends at once." She knows, though, that when it comes to getting mail, nothing beats a parcel in the post. "It's still nice to get packages from home. You can't send chocolate through a modem!"

Traditionalists will tell you that hand-written letters cannot be topped and, in certain areas, they're right. For a start, you can take days to write a letter and not have to worry about someone aching to use the computer after you. You can send your friends presents, and everything seems a lot more personal when it's actually been touched by the person who sent it. On the other hand, sending bulky mail can be expensive. Remember, when you're a student all the pennies add up, so it might be best to save up any big presents for delivery when you're actually visiting friends. There's also the added annoyance of writing a letter and having it hang around at the bottom of your bag until you can be bothered to buy a stamp. Once they're sent though, letters are much nicer to receive than e-mail.

Like most students, Maggie keeps in touch with her friends chiefly by letters. As a communications studies student, she knows that sending letters not only gives her the freedom to write when she finds time, but also to say as much as she likes for the price of a stamp. "The trick is to wait a while before returning a letter," she says. "That way you have more to say and you're not just writing for the sake of it. It's much cheaper than the phone."

Expensive as they can be when you live away from home, phone calls with your friends and family can make the difference between cracking up and living it up. Maggie's advice is good: "Set aside a regular time for calls and limit the amount of yakking you do, otherwise the first bill can be a real shock." Despite the bills, the telephone is the only way you can actually interact with your friends and relatives without visiting them.

Those of you who intend to use a Chargecard for your normal calls should be aware, however, that chargecard tariffs can be quite high. While they do give you the convenience of being able to make calls from any phone (on your parents' phone bill), you may find yourself begging for forgiveness when they find out how much time you spend using it.

Better than all of the above, though, is the weekend trip home. It's often expensive, but the fare can be lightened if you get hold of a Railcard or a Coach Travel Card from your Student Union Travel Shop. It's worth keeping an eye out for special offers, too, as they can save you a lot of money. Often, if you book at least a week ahead, the fare becomes more bearable. In the end, it's worth it. Just when you think you can take no more work, a trip to friends or family gives you just the break you're looking for. After all, there's no way to send a hug through the post or down a phone line.

Nothing beats a trip home to see your friends and family - and travel costs can be reduced by using a student travel card.

CHRISTOPHER JONES

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