Studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you CAN’T pass up, but it can be tempting to when you’re in a relationship. Not only will you be a long plane ride away from each other, you’ll also have time differences, limited internet access, and other factors that will make it hard to communicate while you’re apart, so I won’t lie… it will be a struggle. I’ll talk you through what you can expect if you’re abroad while in a relationship, and how to survive if you’re planning to make a long distance relationship work.
I left for study abroad with a boyfriend… and was single three weeks later
When I was about to leave to study abroad in Antwerp, Belgium, I had been dating someone for over two years. I thought I would spend the rest of my life with him, and leaving him was going to be the hardest part about my study abroad experience. I couldn’t imagine three months apart from him, with just a week visit in the middle, when he planned to come to Belgium.
This fear practically stopped me from getting on the plane to Antwerp, and full disclosure– he would have been totally fine with me deciding not to go (that’s a red flag to discuss in another blog post, by the way.)
But once I arrived to Antwerp, settled in a bit, and started to make friends and have fun, things went downhill quickly for our relationship. He wanted me to stay in and Skype with him, I wanted to go out and experience the city, and especially the nightlife, with all of the new friends that I suddenly had made.
To make a long story short, our long distance relationship ended just three weeks into my study abroad semester. I was sad for a day, but then, I felt like nothing was holding me back, and that was the start of three of the best months of my life.
Should you stay in a relationship when you study abroad?
Even with the story I just told you, I’m going to try to not be biased when answering this question. But from years of experiences of friends and colleagues studying abroad, more often than not, being in a relationship while studying abroad was in the least, difficult, and at most, completely ruined a person’s study abroad experience.
There ARE people who study abroad while in a long distance relationship, and it is definitely doable. But you need to manage your expectations. Here are some of the struggles you’re going to experience while being in a relationship while studying abroad.
Missing out on experiences
With time differences and busy schedules, making time to speak to your significant other will mean that you’ll miss out on things. You will have to sacrifice bar nights, apartment family dinners, and more if you plan to speak to each other at least a couple of times a week. Sacrifices are ok, but make sure you’re definitely willing to make them, and you won’t look back years down the line and be disappointed you did so.
Your SO will not understand you
Every time you hop on Skype with your SO, you’ll have another new story to tell him or her about your experience living in a foreign country. For the first few weeks, it’s usually fun for them to hear about it, but it gets old fast. Even if someone is happy for you, imagine having to hear about how your boyfriend just skydived over the Swiss Alps while you’re stuck at home studying for Calculus? In my experience, this can wear on a relationship.
Your SO might get jealous
A huge part of the breakdown of my relationship during my study abroad semester was due to my boyfriend being jealous in a few different ways. It’s understandable, and I don’t fault him for it. He was just starting his Master’s Degree, so he didn’t really have any fun things on his end, so he was jealous of all of the fun I was having, and the galavanting around Europe I was doing. Looking back, I totally get it.
Unfortunately, he was also jealous of my new friends, particularly, the guys. We had never had any jealousy issues in our relationship before, but being a million miles away from each other and not being able to speak very frequently brought it out of him. Looking back, I can sympathize with him, it must have been very hard.
YOU might get jealous
Let’s not forget that there’s a good chance that after a month or two of not being in the same country, you’ll start to feel a bit of jealousy for your SO back home, when they get to hang with your friends at home, and maybe some new ones you don’t know yet.
You’ll miss out on dating abroad
If this isn’t a priority for you, that’s totally cool. But navigating dating and sex while you’re in a foreign country adds some colour to your semester. Is that something you’re going to look back on and regret that you missed out on?
How to survive a long-distance relationship while studying abroad
DON’T miss out on ANYTHING
The worst thing you can do for both yourself and your relationship is to hold back while you’re studying abroad. Go out at night, travel on the weekends, and make new friends. If you miss out on all of the fun because you’re too busy Skyping with your boyfriend, then why did you even bother to study abroad? You could do the same thing at home for a lot cheaper. I know that it’s tough to be away from your significant other for so long, but keeping busy and having fun will help keep you preoccupied.
Keep a blog
A great way to keep your SO (plus your family and friends) updated on everything you’re doing while studying abroad is to keep a blog. It will help him or her feel more included in your life– when you talk about what you’ve been doing, and with who, he or she can put names to faces and will better understand what your life abroad really is like.
If you have no idea how to start a blog, read this post on How to Start a Blog For Your Study Abroad Semester.
Schedule Skype dates
It’s tough to find time to Skype or Facetime when you both have class, social commitments, and a time difference in the way of letting it happen. The best way to over come this is to schedule your Skype calls. That way, you both know that you have to be home and ready to Skype at a certain time. Even if it’s just for a ten minute call as you’re getting ready to go out for a night of fun, you’ll get to at least say hi and see each other.
Still do the little things
When you’re in the states, you take for granted how easy it is to do the littlest things for your SO. But without reliable internet, it’s certainly tougher while you’re abroad, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it! Doing thoughtful things like sending a sweet Whatsapp message when you connect to Wifi, taking a photo of something that reminded you of your girlfriend and posting it on Instagram, or recording a video message when you both are too busy to chat will go a long way in keeping your relationship alive.
It’s a bit cheesy, but if you want a cute way for you and your SO to interact privately while you’re abroad, download the app Couple, which was created for couples who are far away from each other. Not only can you can message each other on it, but you can send photos, draw pictures together, and even “thumb kiss”– you both press your thumb on your screen and your phones vibrate when they match up. If it helps you feel a bit closer, then use it. My now-husband and I use to use the thumb kiss while he was in London and I was in New York.