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Using A Cell Phone The Abroad Way

By Elizabeth Weinstein, Emory University

We Americans enjoy many things in our American lives that we take for granted.  One such luxury is the unlimited phone plan.  In Prague, this is not the case.  Instead, those of us studying abroad have to be cautious while texting. We cannot respond to texts with an “ok” or just a casual “What’s up?”  Rather, we have to send texts of meaning, like when we need to know where everyone is because we are about to leave, or if we have an important question to ask someone, or if we are lost wandering the streets and need directions.   It is very easy to whiz through our phone credits and soon discover that we have none, usually at times when we actually need them.  And so after three weeks of using my Czech phone plan and way too much money spent over that time period, I am starting to feel pretty good about my phone usage and have come up with some pretty good strategies for keeping my phone usage to a minimum. Here are some tips in case you find yourself in this same situation one day (or just want to see what it feels like to have a very limited phone plan)


The “useless” text:


I have finally gotten over my habit of sending the “useless” text. As mentioned above, this is that casual “ok” or “haha” after someone texts you something. In America, that meaningless text does not cost you anything to send. But, in Prague, that text costs me just as much as any other text. So, why would I waste my money on a text that does not advance the conversation or provide either person with any important/additional information? So, when someone says something funny, as hard as it may be, I must refrain from sending him or her a “haha”, “LOL”, or any other response that confirms to them that what they said was funny or that I agree.


The importance of the Facebook chat:


Facebook is great for keeping in touch with people who are not nearby, seeing what everyone is up to (otherwise known as Facebook stalking), and all sorts of other great things. Members of my generation often wonder how people could ever survive without Facebook. I, however, was never much of a die-hard Facebook-obsessed lover, and I found it relatively easy to live in a world where Facebook did not exist. In Prague, though, I have developed a whole new appreciation for Facebook. While everyone on my program has a Czech cell phone, we also all have a Facebook account. This means that when we are all deciding where to go out that night, or where to eat for dinner, or if you need to ask anyone anything, there is no need to waste that on a text when there is Facebook chat. So for everything that is non-urgent and you are near a computer with internet, you can save a text and send a FB message.


Actually making an effort to speak to someone urgent or non-urgent:


With unlimited phone plans, it is very easy to talk to someone. As mentioned before, it is free and requires no effort at all (other than the actual typing of the message – which I think some phones now allow you to speak it and the phone/Siri will write it for you). So, when I need to tell someone something, just want to say “hey,” or if I have a question to ask I can just shoot that person a text. Well, here I could continue to do so and take this effortless way to reach someone. Or, I can do, as they once did when there was no technology, and I can actually make some sort of effort to go find the person I need to talk to and speak with them face to face (in person that is). Luckily, I live in an apartment building with about 16 other girls on my program. Therefore, it has not been too difficult for me to run up a few flight of stairs instead of sending a text. I will admit though, if I want/need to speak to someone in my building, I do go on FB chat first and see if they are online (why not? It’s convenient, free, and nowadays there is a better chance someone will respond to a FB message than a knock on her door).


While, I have found these new ways to keep my cell phone cost down, there are the few dreadful situations that cause the cell phone bill to burst through the ceiling.


Costly cell phone mishaps:


There are those times where we all spend our Czech phone credits in different useless ways.  For me, I spent $20 of my credits helplessly and hopelessly trying to call a lost iPhone laying in the back of some random blue cab. And where did that get me? Well, I sit here now writing this blog post short $20 and no iPhone. (However, I admit that it was $20 that was well spent in the sense that if I made no effort to find that iPhone, then I probably would not have had the chance to get it back and would not because I did not try. At least I know now that I tried and did everything that I could to get my beloved phone back). There are others, though, who do not feel so good about the money that was spent in their cell phone mishaps. For example, Drew. A few weeks ago, Drew experienced the unfortunate pocket dial to America. While, I waited for Drew to respond to my text that night, his phone was having a voicemail conversation with his uncle in the states. So, I guess we both have learned something so far. For me, I either should not take cabs or (what I imagine to be the better choice) I should make sure that I have all my belongings at all times so I do not waste my money trying to get them back. And for Drew, put his phone on lock or maybe finding a better spot than his back pocket.