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Families use video calling to spend holidays together despite being apart
Soldiers and students stay connected throughout world
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Cara Ann McGuire, right, talks with her sister Annie Mae McGuire, who is in England for school, from the kitchen of the McGuire home in White County. - photo by Tom Reed

Turkey, stuffing and football are all synonymous with Thanksgiving, but none may be as important as sharing the day with loved ones.

Each year, millions travel, whether right up the road or across the world, to spend the holiday with their families, but not everyone has that opportunity.

Annie Mae McGuire, a 23-year-old from Cleveland currently studying abroad in Burnsall, England, will spend Thanksgiving away from her family this year.

McGuire left in August for Burnsall, a small town about 220 miles north of London, to spend six months studying the culinary arts through Student Chefs Abroad.

Today will be the first time in her life that she won’t be with her family for Thanksgiving.

“It’s definitely been a hard task being away from all my family for the months I’ve been here,” McGuire said. “This is really the first holiday since I’ve been here that I’m not going to celebrate at home.”

But to ease some of that burden, McGuire and her family talk almost daily through Tango — a mobile video calling app for smartphones.

And today, all the McGuires hope the Internet connection will hold up long enough to share the holiday across the Atlantic Ocean.

“Even though she’s gone, she’ll still be here and be a part of it,” said Sonja McGuire, Annie Mae’s mother. “She can see and hear about it. I’m going to show her all the food because they don’t eat like we do over here. She’s craving a sweet potato soufflé and they don’t have all that stuff over there. At least she’ll get to see it if she can’t eat it.”

Sharing holidays with distant family over the Web is becoming the norm.

Christy Meeks, a Gainesville resident whose son, Evan, is currently studying in Costa Rica, will jump on Skype today and share, however briefly, the holiday with her son.

Evan, much like Annie Mae, has been gone since August and it’s his first time away from home.

Skype, Christy said, has made that transition exponentially easier.

“It hasn’t felt like he’s been away from us like I thought that it would,” she said. “We really like all the technology and being able to stay in contact. Sometimes it feels like he’s right here with us.”

A lot of people feel the same way. According to Skype’s website, during peak hours, more than 40 million people are online. That’s on top of the millions on programs like Tango and FaceTime.

“It does help a lot,” said Sonja McGuire. “I can call (Annie Mae) and it doesn’t feel like she’s that far away. If it wasn’t for this, I’d have already shipped us to England for three months, you know. It’d be really, really hard.”

But it’s not just students who call back home through those programs. Many soldiers currently serving overseas also stay connected to home through video calls.

Marine Corps Reserves Sgt. Ross Harvin, currently deployed in Afghanistan, said he was able to experience the ultrasound of his unborn daughter, Amelia, who is expected in March.

“Skype has helped me to connect with them,” Harvin wrote in a message. “Especially (with) my 3-year-old (Emma) since she cannot hold a great conversation over the phone. But through Skype it is much more rewarding.”

Patrick John McGeorge, a 2006 graduate of North Hall High School, is a senior airman in the Air Force currently deployed in Africa.

“It’s a lot harder over the holidays because you can’t do your regular family traditions,” McGeorge wrote. “You miss the food the most — especially the green been casserole. But my mom Skypes with me and shows me what she cooks.”

Skype, he said, helps him stay close to his family and girlfriend here in Hall County.

“Skype definitely helps it make you feel a little closer to them and being able to see faces makes it a little easier,” he wrote.

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