If you’ve ever studied abroad, then you know what it’s like to be submerged in an entirely foreign culture. But have you ever wondered what it’s like on the flip side of the experience – what it’s like for someone going abroad to America? Join columnists Amy Chilcott, of Australia, and Kasumi Hirokawa, of China, as they encounter all things American and Penn State – and tell it as they see it the way only one with a foreign perspective can.
Sure, Snapchat, GroupMe and Skype are undeniably fun ways to keep in touch with friends and family, but that doesn’t mean I would ever give my WeChat and LINE up for good. This week, I will introduce you five free, tested-and-tried apps international students, yours truly included, love.
The free-call-and-text app is pretty straightforward and available for Mac, PC, iOS, Windows Phone, Blackberry and Android. You can chat one-on-one and in groups over 3G or wifi, with the friends you imported from your mobile phone contacts and Facebook. You can add certain contacts to “Favorite,” so you don’t have to scroll all the way down the list of friends to find them. You can share your current location, photos and videos with select contacts over a chat. “Viber Out” allows the user to call numbers outside of Viber contact list using Viber credits (which can be purchased for $0.99-9.99). The downside is you cannot broadcast your status update. Viber is available in over 30 languages including English, German, French, Arabic, Spanish and Russian.
The app has almost all of what Viber has and more: you can block contacts and “broadcast” a message. Unfortunately, it doesn’t let you call people who are not WhatsApp users, but that’s true for most international free-call apps, anyway. You can share online statuses (like “Available” or “Busy”), locations, audio clips and videos with your contacts. The app is completely free to download and use for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Symbian, Nokia and Blackberry, but after the first-year trial, the user needs to pay $0.99 per year for subscription.
I have a confession to make: I resisted downloading this app until the spring of my junior year. My dad was already using the app with his own circle of golf buddies and coworkers for quite some time, and would not stop raving how awesome this “group-chat-slash-texting thingy” was. To my dad’s dismay, I learned to dismiss his recommendations over time. But oh my! WeChat is actually awesome. It lets you call (sort of) over the push-to-talk feature, chat and share “moments” with all your contacts. Its quirky features such as “Shake” and “Drift Bottle” to find new friends and you can add friends by typing IDs or by scanning their unique QR codes. You can subscribe to other users’ updates and import Google contacts. Settings can be adjusted to allow your device to automatically detect WeChat users nearby, or notify you if your new phonebook contact uses the app. The emoji stickers feature the uber-hilarious Tuzki the Bunny gifs (www.clubtuzki.com).
With this social app from Japan, you can follow not only your friends and family, but also your favorite celebrities (psst, Katy Perry is on it) and brands you like for exclusive updates. One of the perks of using LINE is that you have access to an endless supply of downloadable emoji stickers which range from kawaii (cute) to goofy. The stickers are usually free, but some charge $1.99 per bulk. There are spin-off apps such as LINE Play, which is similar to Sims, but with the characters from the downloadable emojis, and LINE Camera. You can to decorate your photos with stamps, frames and filters purikura-style (Japanese photobooth). Photos can also be sorted into different albums.
This powerhouse app from South Korea is just like any other on-the-go social-networking fare, but with a playful twist; the app’s “Item Store” has a massive collection of adorable emojis and themes. The user can change voice filter settings to “Cat,” “Lion,” etc. for some serious ROFL moments. What’s great about KakaoTalk is that it can be installed on both computers and smartphones. There’s no need to create an account – just verify the phone number, and you are all set to call, leave voice messages and chat for free. It also has a “Shake” and QR code-scanning functions for adding new contacts. It can automatically add your friends on the phone contact list so you don’t have to do the extra work of digging them up. The “Plus Friends” feature recommends the most popular users and K-pop stars worth following.
Photo by Jonathan Hsieh