Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Traveling Students

This month, my family is hosting a high school student from Spain. She's here to learn about American language and culture. Of course, one of the best ways to do this is by living with an American family.

It's quite fun that she arrived on the Thursday before the long Fourth of July weekend. What indoctrination into American culture!

Prior to her arrival, we received her email address and were able to email her some photos of our family and even some panoramas of the front and rear of our home from a free tool from Microsoft called

We were considering doing a video conference call using Skype to introduce her to our family, but that was not something she had available to her.

I was also wondering what technology she would need while she's here. It should come as no surprise that she came well-equipped.

First of all, she brought her own laptop computer. All she needed was access to our home WiFi and she was off and running.

Second, she brought her own digital camera, so she was quite able to take and send photos to her family whenever she wanted.

Third, while we haven't seen one yet, it wouldn't surprise me if she brought her own mobile phone, although it won't surprise me if she doesn't use it for the month she's with us. [Update: She did bring a mobile phone, but is using it only for texting.]

All in all, she came very well-equipped to fit into our home with what is now pretty standard travel electronics.

I do always enjoy seeing computers and other devices which are not in English. While the screens look and feel the same, the names that are used for the various menus and options are typically quite different. It's actually a good way to learn bits and pieces of a foreign language. If one knows what the menus and options are in English, there's typically a one-to-one correspondence between the menus and options in the other language. I've enjoyed seeing our student's Spanish software.

Another aspect that is different is that the keyboards can be somewhat different. Spanish, for example, has a number of character modifications that are simply not part of English. While our computers have the ability to generate these characters, they're usually on a menu or some obscure command somewhere, whereas on the Spanish keyboard, they're important enough to warrant real estate on the keyboard itself.

While this summer, we're having a visitor in our home, I know of many families who are sending their children abroad for some or all of the summer. The best part of the technology that people can carry with them is that it's generally much lighter than it ever has been and keeping in touch for fun or emergencies is easier and less expensive than it ever has been.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 13 July 2011.

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