Heading home does not have to mean losing touch with your new international friends.

In recent years, social networking sites have taken the internet by storm providing people with the means to carve out their own corner of cyberspace. The global ramifications of social networking is well documented considering the possibility for global governance, reform and even revolution.
How does one go from being poked by friends and games of Farmville to revolution?  Sites like Facebook reach a wide international audience, garnering support for causes ranging from the humane treatment of animals to radical political groups such as the Gaza Youth Breaks Out, whose group is supported by over 17 000 Facebook members.
Despite the ability for social networks to be used to gain support for government reforms and environmental causes, the majority of users log in for one purpose only, to keep in touch with friends.

Staying in touch with international friends dispersed across the globe used to be a painstaking affair involving hand written letters and postcards taking weeks to reach their destination. Social networking sites are making it even easier with their instant messaging service and up to date news feeds. You don’t even have to go to an individual friend’s profile page, all updates are immediately visible on your news feed, you have instant access to your friends’ lives. And since Twitter updates to Facebook, you need never wonder what your friends are doing right this minute.

For exchange students, social networking sites are one of the easiest, most efficient ways of keeping in touch with international friends and acquaintances.  When asked, JYU students say they make the greatest use of Facebook and Skype.
”Facebook has almost everything, private message box, instant chat, it’s probably the easiest way to keep in contact,” says Gintare Turskyte, a Lithuanian exchange student.
Otto Kantanen,  a Finnish student, agrees.
”Just reading the news feed (on Facebook), is much easier than writing email. I can’t remember how people communicated before Facebook.”
Iina Julkanen, a Finnish student, uses Facebook to ”communicate caring for other people, keeping the mutual bond alive. It’s also great for planning stuff” and the Facebook events application is definitely essential for JYU students wanting to know about the next Stammtisch or M-Building party!

Social networking sites are used to communicate with both close friends and more casual acquaintances, however, hand written communication is considered more intimate, reserved for special friends.
”I do not feel the distance between us,”  says Yui Kakimoto, Japan, about international friends on Facebook.
”But I still send cards to some of them.”
”Hand written letters carry feeling, it’s not just a random message on someone’s wall,” says Turskyte.
Sara Kolomainen, Finland/Spain exchange student, says she writes international friends letter or calls them on the phone.
”Real friendships aren’t dependent on new communication methods.”

So,  despite the ability to support political movements, play Farmville or poke friends, perhaps social networking is not the indispensable form of communication many believe. A simple phone call or handwritten postcard still has a place in our society.

Suzanne van Rooyen