Skype & Video Chat:
It is so amazing to be able to Skype with family back home either though the desktop computer, laptop, or phone. With the laptop & phone, we can connect our family to anywhere we are (as long as there is an internet connection). Being able to see faces while talking helps to bridge the distance gap. There are other video services, but so far with Skype we have no complaints (that and FaceTime on the iPhones works well too).
Television & Slingbox:
In Germany, you can subscribe to English stations on cable. However, the options are limited. Most programs are now offered online through Hulu or through the networks’ websites. However, the sites attempt to control who can view the content, mainly keeping foreign countries from being able to access this programming (to prevent illegal distribution). There are ways around this regarding a VPN service that tricks sites into thinking we are still in the US, but we haven’t explored that option yet. Also, we have heard good things about AppleTV, but haven’t explored that either. But, what we do have is a Slingbox, and this is AWESOME!!!! Two options exist where you can buy a stand-alone Slingbox (from Best Buy) and connect it to a cable box or some cable/satellite systems have an integrated box where the technology is built-in. What is cool about this technology is that we can see a channel guide, record programming through a DVR, and play it back whenever we want or can even watch live TV all in HD (depending on internet speed). This is great to be able to watch programming with the time zone difference (like recording a sporting event). My parents have a dedicated box through Dish satellite in their office that is basically our receiver. So, we can watch whatever we want, whenever we want, and not impact what they watch & record.
Whether built-in to the cellphone or in the car, this is an absolute must have device when driving. Heck, for that matter walking too in the city streets. The GPS has an English setting, but it’s British English, which makes the directions given seem so proper. But, one word of advice, if renting a car, make sure they set the GPS to English before you leave or you will need to figure out how to change the language settings in German.
What to do about your US mail? You can do a change of address to your new address in Germany, but some companies do not allow foreign address forwarding. You can have a family member receive, scan through, and forward you the important mail, but this becomes a possible burden for your family. Since we still have responsibilities and accounts in the US, we will receive US mail. There are many mail forwarding services to choose from, but at the recommendation of a fellow colleague here from the US, we use an online service called mailboxforwarding.com. You are given a post office box in Michigan (where the mail company is located). You contact all of your accounts and give them the new address. Mail is sent there, the outside envelope is scanned, and we can elect to have either the inside contents scanned, the mail shredded, or have it forwarded to our address in Germany. There are 3 levels of service with the basic being $14.95 per month that allows the receipt of 40 mailed items & 10 scanned items per month. You pay a small fee for each item above these numbers, or increase the service level to get a higher amount of received or scanned mail. So far, this system has worked great, especially since it is tax season or if we receive a new credit card that needs to be forwarded. If you are interested in signing up for this service, please contact me as we both can get a free month of service through recommendations.
So, the above listed some of the technology we used to make our move to Germany easier. There are more phone apps and websites to discover to help even further. Without this technology, I could see how easy it could be to get home sick or feel very frustrated. And, it will be interesting to see how even newer technology will make this even better over our next 2-3 years here….or at least until the rise of the machines occur and SkyNet takes over.