Friday, July 20, 2007

Greetings to my Skype Friends

For those of you who don't know, Skype is a free program that allows for online chatting. Unlike other chat clients, however, Skype also allows for free computer-to-computer audio and/or video interaction. For example, our team regularly meets to "chat" (type in messages in a chat window) since there are 6 of us, with varying connection speeds and locations. We choose to use the "chatting" services when we want to moderate our conversation and want to have a written record of what we've talked about. When 3 or 4 of us meet, however, sometimes we use the audio conferencing feature. We can all talk so much faster than we can type, and the interactions in voice conversations are different. So sometimes one method serves us better than another.

Even though most of my Skype conversations are with this group, as our work load for school is often very intense and we are required to complete a number of group projects, there are others with whom I Skype. These are people who, looking for someone to chat with, just pick my name, and my short little profile, out of a list and ask if we can be "friends". I have to say that I get a lot of invitations [which is interesting in itself since I clearly point out my age in my profile] that I turn down, just from the fact that I don't have time for more. But, my little list is composed of the most interesting group that I just love to chat with on occasion.

  1. Erol (Istanbul, Turkey) owns a tour bus. His English is definitely good enough that we rarely misunderstand each other, and he has shared some wonderful and beautiful photos from his country with me. He has a wonderful habit of speaking to me in endearing terms that many here is the states would find "uncomfortable" (he occasionally expresses his love and sends me kisses), but Leo and I both recognize them as phrases that indicate just how much he wants us to be friends, and knowing the context, I find them exotic and wonderful expressions of friendship.
  2. Sami (Helsinki, Finland) is my most recent friend, as I couldn't resist accepting a chat invitation from Finland. As it turns out, he is Palestinian, born in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip and we are a couple of months apart in age. Sami is a currently unemployed electrical engineer and his English is very good. We talked of opportunities here in the states for him, both as a student and in the work force, but he told me the same story that I hear from so many others about how difficult it is to get into the country now, especially if your heritage is of a certain part of the world. I hope to be able to chat with him again soon.
  3. Rachid (Rissani, Morocco) is a 45-year-old small business owner in Morocco. Rachid often wants to talk to me, using the voice feature of skype, but I usually only set up for that (headset and all) when I have a scheduled voice chat, so we've only actually talked on one occasion. [Rachid's typed English is good, but his spoken English is quite excellent.] We often speak of our very different lifestyles, especially when it comes to work. Rachid is always encouraging me to slow down, relax, and enjoy life a little instead of rushing through it, and I am always trying to explain how the crazy rush of my life is actually enjoyable for me (most of the time!) We talk to each other almost every week, and I very much enjoy these conversations.
  4. Simon (Tianjin, China) is an electrical control engineer in a US-owned company in China. He is 45, with a wife and one 17-year-old son. Simon has been to the US once, but it was to a midwestern town and his visit was all work-related. Simon and I have a difficult time understanding each other only rarely, as when talking about our technical business experiences. Simon's primary reason for making friends around the world seems to be a lot like mine...just to learn and experience things by interacting with others who are very much like us in some ways, and very different from us in others. I ALWAYS enjoy chatting with Simon.
  5. Tarik (Casablance, Morocco) is about the same age as my youngest daughter and is very interested in coming to the US to attend school. I tried to help him out by sending him links to the University of Houston, but we had so much trouble, I went ahead and entered his information into the Texas Common Application (the place where all students register for all colleges in Texas) for him while he fed the details to me in a chat. Tarik seems to be a very fun-loving young man and I always enjoy chatting with him. We sometimes have a difficult time understanding each other, but that just makes it more of a challenge and a lot more fun!
So, now you know about some of my international friends and what we talk about online. I have been thinking (a LOT recently) about setting us some more formal, scheduled small group chats with people just like these around the work to talk about things like home and family, work and career, neighbors and neighborhoods, as well as pre-conceived notions, misconceptions, and just interesting chitchat. If I ever follow up on this idea, I'll be sure and let you all know about it, just in case you want to participate!

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