Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Hello, Mother Hello, Father Technology Expands How Kids Keep in Touch from Faraway Camps and Schools

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Hello, Mother Hello, Father Technology Expands How Kids Keep in Touch from Faraway Camps and Schools

Article excerpt

Byline: Nancy McAlister, Times-Union staff writer

Some are sleeping in camp bunk beds sprinkled throughout North Carolina. Others are taking classes at colleges in London or Valencia.

Whether they're age 10 or 20, these Jacksonville students have one thing in common: Their parents would like to hear from them once in awhile. Is the food edible? Have your dirty clothes developed any colorful molds? Are you getting any sleep?

"Dropping a line" during the summer of 2001 no longer has to involve anything as archaic as mailing a postcard. Options now include long-distance calling cards, cell phones and high-tech e-mail devices.

The issue of staying in touch has become more pronounced, in part due to the sheer numbers of children participating in out-of-town programs. The American Camping Association reports an 8 percent to 9 percent yearly increase in signups for camps. And the number of college students studying abroad has grown by 45 percent in the past three years, according to Lori Faunce, marketing manager for Educational Directories Unlimited, whose Web site studyabroad.com currently lists 15,000 programs. "It's definitely gaining popularity," Faunce said from the company's Chester, Pa., headquarters. "It looks better on a resume. There's a trend just to be more globally aware, to learn other cultures because the economy has become so international."

Whether a child is in Montreal or in Montreat, N.C., many programs encourage campers and students to keep in touch with home. The Camping Association advises parents to give children pre-addressed, stamped envelopes or postcards and issues reminders about using e-mail and faxes. But the technology is typically for parents, not campers, to use, said Don Wood, director of American Camping Association Southeast. "More camps today are allowing parents to send e-mails," he said. The messages are then printed out and given to the campers in letter form. Cell phones, for the most part, are not allowed.

Students involved in overseas study programs are more likely to stay in touch by using cell phones or wireless e-mail. But studyabroad.com also encourages use of postcards. "Postcards are still very popular because they show pictures of the places and give family and friends something to talk about," Faunce said. To send a postcard between the United States and places such as China, Costa Rica or Italy costs just 70 cents.

Many parents and young travelers want to bypass paper altogether and go directly to cyberspace. Cell phones are also an option, particularly for older student travelers, and many have e-mail capability.

For students traveling out of the country, cell phones are an option, along with more traditional phoning methods using pay phones and calling cards. But different countries have different standards, so students probably won't be able to use a cell phone brought from home. An international wireless phone such as the Ericsson T28, which can be used pretty much anywhere, is available to AT&T Wireless customers and sells for $750. AT&T's WorldConnect service is $7.99 a month, plus a $25 fee for the WorldConnect card.

A cheaper way to stay in contact is for travelers to buy a cell phone in the country they're visiting, said Jesse Cooke of Arizona-based CEA Study Abroad. "They're very, very accessible and there are places to pick them up before you even leave the airport," he said. But one complaint is the expense. One mother told Cooke of finding out a call from her daughter in Italy would cost $1. …

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