Staying Connected with Friends Across the Nation – a Phi-Munion

In 2008, seven girls with little in common met at Indiana University. They were joining the same sorority, Phi Mu, and despite their different backgrounds and majors, Courtney Caudill, Natalie Sedia, Caitlin Johnston, Kristin Buckingham, Kelly Gonyer, Maggie Wittman and Tara Sarin became friends.

“We spent so much time together attending chapter events and parties, living down the hall from each other or just hanging out,” Caudill said. “Some of my best memories of college involve these women. We’ve been there for each other through so much, both good and bad. I can’t imagine how different my life would be if I didn’t have such amazing friends.”

Three and a half years later, graduation sent the seven friends all over the country to pursue graduate school, internships and careers in Denver; Chicago; Indianapolis; Cincinnati; Charlotte, N.C.; and Tampa Bay, Fla.

“I’m fortunate to be friends with a diverse group of women whose passions have led us to different cities doing totally different things,” Sedia said. “But going from seeing your best friends every day to seeing them only once a year, if that, is hard.”

The girls vowed that they wouldn’t let the distance ruin their friendships. They decided that they would try to visit each other annually, if not more frequently. In the interim, they turned to technology to keep them connected.

It started with a Facebook group, where they shared updates on their post-college lives. They compared it to sitting around on a futon together, something they didn’t actually do again until their first group trip to Indianapolis in August 2012.

“That was when Tara told us about GroupMe, an app she used with her medical school friends to set up study sessions,” Caudill said. “The app is available for iOS, Android and Windows phones, allowing users to group text across devices. It even works over SMS, which was perfect for Tara and Kelly, who didn’t have smartphones. It allowed us to connect instantaneously, rather than having to wait until the next time everyone logged onto Facebook. It felt like sitting in the same room together.”

In addition to daily GroupMe chats, the girls also started planning regular Google Hangouts to chat through video, voice or text on their mobile devices or desktops, using the scheduling assistant app Doodle to find dates and times that worked for everyone.

“Despite being dispersed throughout six different states, I still hear about every job promotion, girls’ night out, new relationship and whatever else life throws our way. Using GroupMe, Doodle, Google Hangouts on Verizon Wireless’ network has helped me stay connected to my best friends despite the distance,” Johnston said.

And how are the girls doing on their pact to meet up once a year? Their second annual “Phi-Munion,” as they affectionately call it in honor of their shared sorority experience, is coming up this weekend.