Happy Valentine’s Day! Today’s blog post comes to us from Texas State University student & API blogger Kayla Duff. She’s studying abroad with us in Cork, Ireland!
I wanted to write about something today that I know a lot of study abroad students struggle with: maintaining long-distance relationships while you’re abroad.
Trying to navigate a relationship on top of getting used to a new school system, new home, and perhaps even a new language can feel overwhelming. I definitely know that from personal experience.
When my girlfriend and I started dating last summer, I had already been accepted to my study abroad program. We knew going into our relationship that I was going to be in a different country for five months, and that we would have to be apart for those five months. There isn’t really any way to prepare for a long-distance relationship, unfortunately – and it has been difficult for us since I left for my study abroad program. We miss each other every day, and that makes it hard to concentrate on our individual lives.
That said, there are some things that we have figured out that help take the stress out of a long-distance relationship.
You can tailor these to your individual relationships, and many of these will work for platonic relationships as well – especially close friends and family.
1. It’s the little things that count
When you can’t see someone on a regular basis, try to pay attention to the little things. Stuff you might not talk about when you’re together – for instance, classes, what they’re having for lunch, the weather at home – can provide a springboard for keeping a conversation going. I know that my girlfriend loves poetry, so I make an effort to find and send her a cute poem via text every few days. One of the hardest things to deal with in a long distance relationship is that your partner is too busy to think about you. Even something as simple as a good morning message can remind someone that you’re thinking of them.
2. Set ground rules.
This seems obvious, but when you’re going to be in two completely separate places, it’s important to make sure you’re on the same page. What are you both comfortable with in terms of going out? If someone asks you on a date after class, even if you say no, does your partner want to know about it? Are you exclusive, or can you flirt with the locals? Setting boundaries also includes communication. Getting used to a time difference won’t be fun, but are there times of the day when you won’t be able to talk to your partner, or they won’t be able to talk to you? Know those up-front so that there are no misunderstandings about being ignored or left unread. I keep my phone on Do Not Disturb at night, but my girlfriend knows that she can call me if she needs to and her number will go through. I know the same for her.
3. View it as an opportunity… because it is!
Study abroad is an opportunity not only for you to experience life in a new country, but also to experience life separate from your partner. You might learn things about yourself, or about your relationship. Study abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will teach you some incredibly skills and introduce you to some amazing people. It’s easy to say “we’ll be apart for x months,” but study abroad should be a learning opportunity for you AND your partner.
4. Strive for open communication.
This is another one that seems obvious, but a lot of couples have trouble with this. When you’re in a long-distance relationship, it’s that much harder to work out issues. If you feel jealous, insecure, or sad, don’t hide it from your partner. If you do, it may turn into an argument later, and it’s so much harder to work things out over an international phone call than to just talk quickly about things when they come up.
For instance, my girlfriend and I have mutual friends at home that she’s hanging out with while I’m in Ireland. Because I told her I feel sad to be missing out, she sends me snapchats and pictures when they’re together. Likewise, our friends always send me pictures of her whenever they’re together. Any time we feel sad or insecure, we tell each other. We haven’t had a single misunderstanding or argument since I left.
It’s also important to remember that open communication doesn’t mean you have to be talking 12 hours a day to keep up the relationship. Find what works for you, and stick to it. That might just be a few texts during the day, or a phone call every few days.
5. Set periods to pass the time.
One of the problems that my girlfriend and I ran into was looking at the calendar and seeing day after day, month after month and knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to see her. It felt really overwhelming. A friend of mine suggested that I divide the time into periods – not necessarily days or weeks, but sections of time to break it down a little bit. I ended up separating the time into eight different sections, all based around things I’m looking forward to doing. For instance, in a couple of weeks, I’m going to Iceland; when I get back from Iceland, the next section starts and I’m looking forward to going to Edinburgh instead. This has definitely made the time apart feel more manageable.
6. Try to do things together.
You may not be able to be together, but you can still get a feeling that you’re doing things together! If you know your partner is having some friends over, maybe see if your roommates want to go out for drinks. Watch a documentary together on a lazy day, or go for a walk together while video-calling. My girlfriend and I were upset that we couldn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day together, so we agreed to cook a meal together (dinner for me and lunch for her, because of the time change) on a video call and that’s going to be our Valentine’s Day date.
Obviously every relationship is different, but if you’re feeling lost, or if you’re considering doing a study abroad program and are worried about how your relationship might fare, try to keep these things in mind.
I told a family member the other day that the most difficult part of adjusting to study abroad life for me has been how much I miss my girlfriend. That doesn’t mean I won’t have an amazing experience in my host country, though!