Studying in Rome has its many privileges but one of the drawbacks is that it’s not home. I love London – the place and the people – and being so far away from it can sometimes lead to loneliness.
My coping mechanism for this is to create the illusion that I’m still in London. I do this by ensuring that I have easy (and cheap!) ways of communicating with friends and relatives back home, and that I still have access to British TV.
Maintaining contacts with those you love at home is important for me especially at times when I struggle with life in seminary. Facebook has proven itself a godsend in this regard but often there is no substitute to a real telephone conversation. And thanks to today’s technology, calls to the UK (or anywhere else, for that matter) need not cost a fortune.
I have a virtual London telephone number through Skype which means friends and relatives in the UK can call me for the price of a local call. This virtual 020 number goes a long way in making me feel that I am still at home.
Last summer, my mobile network, Three, introduced Feel at Home which means that I can use my mobile phone in 11 countries (including Italy) without roaming charges. Put another way, I can use my call and data allowance in Rome without paying a penny more. I can use my free minutes to call the UK and I can also take advantage of my unlimited internet in Rome. And of course, people in the UK can call my mobile number as though I’m still in London – no roaming charges means I don’t pay extra to receive calls.
Being able to watch British TV is also a must for me. Nothing reminds me of London more than EastEnders, the BBC’s flagship soap set in the East End of London, and I love being able to keep up with what’s going on in my home country by watching the BBC News Channel.
The internet has made all this possible … but it’s not quite as straightforward as that. The British TV websites that stream live and on-demand programmes including the wonderful BBC iPlayer are all region locked. This means they are intended to be viewed in the UK only and they cannot be accessed from abroad – unless you take certain steps to fool them into thinking that you are browsing from the UK.
There are free and paid-for ways of creating this illusion. The simplest free option is using the Media Hint add-on for your browser (either Firefox or Chrome). This will allow you to watch streams on any official TV website (UK and other countries) but the downside is that it does not let you download programmes from the iPlayer. This is a problem for me because I prefer to download my programmes to watch later (and also because my internet connection is rather erratic which causes a lot of buffering when I try to stream).
To get around this problem, I pay for a British IP address by subscribing to Virtual Private Network service. I use Hotspot Shield Elite (one of the cheapest and most popular VPN providers). With a British IP address, as far as any website is concerned I am still in England and I can watch the antics of the EastEnders as much as I want.
So there you have it: I’m physically in Rome but virtually in London at the same time. Who said you can’t be in two places at once?