Technology: Four Modern Communication Tools for Immigrants

by Lin Wang

Immigrants often feel as if they are strangers in a strange land. Indeed, leaving behind your homeland and your family is no easy task. But immigration does not mean that you would never talk to them again – thanks to technology, communicating with your family can be one easy click away.

Social Networking Sites
If you have internet connection, social-networking sites can be great tools. Facebook (www.facebook.com) is a site where anyone can sign up free. Once you join, you will be able to link not only with family and friends, but also your former community. Another option is to join groups who share your cultural interests, or create a group for the family by invitation only. You can also set your profile to be viewed only by your contacts, and then customize it with personal information. Upload photos of your work place, or create an event reminder for upcoming birthdays and celebrations. You can even share video clips of your daughter’s graduation or photos of Canada with your family back in the home country. Another interesting feature is the ability for you to write regular status updates such as “I passed my citizenship test” and “just got back from work”.

MySpace (www.myspace.com) is a networking site with similar functions like photo and music sharing. The differences are slim between the two – Facebook focuses more on building connections and has a wide variety of applications such as games, while MySpace places emphasis on self-expression through creative use of online media.

Instant Messaging
Do you imagine talking to your family back home directly through the computer? While time differences can get in the way, instant messaging is an incredible experience.

MSN Messenger (www.msn.com) is the most popular tool used for talking live. “It’s free,” comments Cherie Cheong, a teen who immigrated here when she was a child. “Nowadays almost everyone has a computer and an MSN account – my family is hundreds of kilometers away, but they seem so close, and it’s so easy to keep in touch.”

First, you would have to create an account and download the messenger software. Then, add your family to the contact list. As long as you go online at the same time as your family, you will be able to talk, share files, or even play a game of chess. If you want to make the most of this experience, get a camera, a set of speakers and a headset. This will allow you to actually see your family and hear their voices. If there are more than two or more contacts online, you can even have a shared conversation and talk to them all in the same chat window.

Of course, some of you may prefer not to bother with downloads. If you are looking for a simpler messaging tool, try Google Chat, provided by Gmail (www.gmail.com). As long as you and your family are both logged onto Gmail, you can chat with each other through any web browser. This function is very handy and easy to use.

Photo & Video Sharing
Would you like to share photos of your new car with the family? What about a video tour of your apartment? Every moment of living in a foreign country is quite exciting, so do not hesitate to capture the experience.

Then, share the photos and videos online through Flickr (www.flickr.com), often described by users as the “the best online photo-sharing application in the whole world.” This application allows you to upload photos and videos from your desktop, through email or even using your camera phone. It also lets you edit them to your heart’s content! When you are done, organize them into sets of similar themes and share them with your family. They can do the same and inform you of the changes back home. Last but not least, Flickr is offered in multiple languages ranging from Mandarin, Dutch and French to Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. Sign up free in whatever language you are comfortable with using.

Again, Google offers its own version of photo sharing through Picasa web albums. You have the option of downloading the software to organize your photos on computer or to upload photos directly. Youtube (www.youtube.com) too offers users the ability to upload videos, or even start your own channel of broadcasts.

Websites & Blogs
Webs (www.webs.com) offers free web hosting under its domain name. You can create a personalized page with anything you will ever want to share with your family. There are more than 300 templates offered, along with page editors. Photo and video sharing functions are also available, though not as advanced as ones created solely for those purposes. You can even create a “ring” to connect with your family, or add them to your mailing list. A function of interest to families trying to stay in contact is the personal forum. You and your family can create threads, and thus share discussions without any worry over time difference. Ask about their health and post any exciting news you may have. A simpler version of web-creating is the Page Creator, offered by Google.

Blogs are also gaining popularity across the web. Users can post announcements and writing along with videos and pictures on the blog. Set the blog status to private, give each family member an account and you will be able to network. Blogger (www.blogger.com) and Wordpress (www.wordpress.com) both host them free, and their functions are similar.

Whether you are just preparing to leave your home country or you are a landed immigrant, there are ways for you to stay connected with your family and roots. Distance should no longer be an obstacle for immigrant families trying to maintain contact.

CNM