Staying in touch: How to navigate the communications minefield

With today's technology it's easy and cheap to contact your family and friends
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The Independent Online

Whether you need to keep in touch with friends back at home or your parents want to know your latest movements as you begin your new independent student life, this article should help you navigate the communications minefield.

You may be starting a new and exciting life at university but there will probably come a time when the "how do I work the washing machine?" question will be required. Knowing the most cost-effective and savvy way of keeping in touch will make life infinitely easier for you.

Mobile phones

Obviously incredibly useful little gadgets these, but be careful of costs and call charges as you may find your bill rockets when there are so many new people - plus your family - to keep in touch with. Some phone companies have special plans to cater specifically to student usage, so don't be afraid ask. Pay-as-you-go is also a good option if you want to know exactly how much you are spending. Stick to texts for meeting at the library!

E-mail

Although not always instant, e-mails are a great way of keeping in touch without the cost of calling. If you don't already have an address there are plenty of free servers online and they are incredibly easy to set up. It's also a good way of keeping the parents off your back when they're asking for news! Some internet-based e-mail accounts allow you to chat instantly via your computer. Chatting can provide a suitable study break while working on essays or doing research, just make sure it does become too much of a distraction!

Skype

For international students studying in the UK, Skype can be a great way of keeping call costs down when phoning home. Calling via your internet connection to other Skype users is free to both you and the person you're calling, and you can also call other landlines or mobiles for a minuscule fee. Bear in mind that there are other internet telecommunications networks available if your university or college doesn't cater for Skype.

Myspace or Facebook

A great way of keeping in touch with new mates or those from home. Keep them up to date with your social and study life by adding photos or stories. Update your profile regularly to tell the world how your new life is going. Be mindful, of course, that almost anyone can access the information including other students, parents or even university staff. For the really technologically savvy, perhaps try sending Mum and Dad a podcast account of your first week.

Landline phone

This can be a great, cost-effective way of communicating, although problems may arise when the bill has to be split at the end of the month. Also, the location of the phone in student accommodation could become a problem if it's not a cordless one. If your house or residence doesn't have a landline you may find using a pay phone with a phone card is an option to give you privacy.

Letters

Finally, the Royal Mail postal system can be surprisingly useful in this the age of digital communication; packages of goodies from friends and family are always a welcome arrival. If all else fails, writing a letter home to concerned parents or relatives will reassure them that you have survived freshers' week and have not forgotten about them. Perhaps you could even get creative and send them the student union newspaper, or a postcard of the campus. Everyone loves receiving something though the mailbox that isn't a bill, after all!

SSG suggests...

Make sure you have everyone's addresses, contact details and birthdays before you leave - it will be infinitely harder to track them down if you've moved away from home!

Don't wait for your new or old friends to contact you first. Send them an e-mail if you are feeling lonely, because chances are they are waiting just like you.

If you are the organised type, arranging an annual meet up around Christmas or the summer holidays will mean you all have a date to look forward to.

Some mobile phone companies have special deals for prepaid customers that include free calls to other mobiles or landlines, or free texts on the weekend. Make sure you know how to make the most of them.

If all else fails, you could always find out if the Royal Mail offers a next-day carrier pigeon service...

WEB AID

MySpace, Facebook, Bebo

Keep in touch with your mate's antics with these social-networking sites

myspace.com, facebook.com, bebo.com

Skype

A very cheap and often free way of calling via your internet connection

www.skype.com

Royal Mail

Useful for finding postcodes, pricing your care packages and buying stamps

www.royalmail.com

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