Originally published on July 7th, 2014.
You're about to embark on a life-changing adventure, heading overseas into the unknown with passport in hand and a spirit of adventure. You may be looking for language classes or have already enrolled in an exchange program so that you can soak up a foreign environment. You're leaving home to study abroad.
However, you're studying abroad solo, without your boyfriend/girlfriend, and that's causing you some anxiety. Rather than trying to break up, you're both making a commitment to give the dreaded long distance a try. Even though you know this will be a difficult experience, you're still convinced that your relationship is worth fighting for.
That's fantastic -- but study abroad has the power to kill relationships. Make sure to keep ahold of that passion and consider the following tips for navigating your long distance relationship while studying abroad:
1. Have Them Plan A Visit (or two...)
If you and your beau can afford it, this should be number one on your list when it comes to sustaining a long distance relationship. Especially if you're studying abroad a little closer to home, like in Costa Rica or ever-popular England make sure that the person you left behind can come visit once or twice (depending on how long you're gone for) during your time abroad.
We want to emphasize the importance of them visiting you, since it's not just about seeing each other again. You want your significant other to be able to contextualize your experience abroad by getting a taste for themselves.
If they've met your new study abroad friends, then they can make better sense of your stories. If your significant other has been to your new favorite local coffee shop, they will be able to visualize where you're sipping your morning cup of tea as you study for your classes.
You'll both want to be able to talk about what has happened over the course of the day and these stories will be understood much more readily if you both can picture exactly where everything is taking place. Not only that, but they'll feel more included in what may have otherwise been a very you experience. You need to make sure you both create a space for the other person in your separate worlds and a great way to accomplish this is for them to travel to you.
2. Trust Each Other
This is one of the biggest downfalls of any long distance relationship. Trust can already be difficult when you're in the same town, let alone halfway across the world. If you're entering into a long distance relationship, then make sure you already have a stable foundation of trust. Keep the honesty flowing and do not hide anything.
Think about being able to look back at your time apart and knowing that your love was strong enough to survive.
If you're having a mild flirtation with someone else or if you suspect your partner is doing so, then bring it out into the open. Discuss it together and decide that your relationship is more important than temptation. Chances are, you're just lonely, crave physical affection, and miss being physically with each other. Nothing will rot away your self-esteem and confidence faster than doubt and the only way to get around doubt is to cultivate transparency.
3. Communicate Regularly, But Not All The Time!
Take advantage of your time overseas by exploring new hobbies and activities. Hang out with new study abroad friends and go on adventures to neighboring areas. Communicate regularly with your significant other, but definitely make sure that you don't spend all of your time talking to them either. You'll miss out on what's is going on around you if you do!
At the same time, since you're the one traveling abroad, it'll be easy to get caught up in your new life. You're surrounded by new people, trying new foods, and immersing yourself in a new culture, and you may end up losing sight of your relationship. Try to fight against this by making time for your girlfriend/boyfriend when you know you'll not have another activity planned.
Schedule a regular time when you both drop whatever you're doing to catch up. Make sure you're both well-versed in time zones and clear and honest about your schedules. Especially if you're in an area where wifi access is hard to come by or of poor quality, make sure your significant other understands this and doesn't get upset when that's the culprit behind your missed Skype date.
Regardless of how often you speak, you will need to spend some time on your relationship and keep the lines of communication open. The last thing that you want to do is cause resentment either because the other person feels neglected or because you feel like you're being held back!
4. Have Patience and Understanding
Even though you're in love, or at least quite fond of each other, you might find yourselves in a disagreement or even a full-fledged fight during your time abroad. While having arguments is normal -- healthy even -- for a relationship, you may realize that fighting long distance is a whole different ball game from fighting in person. Add in any technological glitches like a slow internet connection that cuts out every five minutes, you could end up being in tears and ready to end the whole long distance experiment.
You need to realize whatever began the argument, your fight may actually ... be rooted in your frustration at being separated.
You need to realize whatever began the argument, your fight may actually have stemmed from a simple misunderstanding or be rooted in your frustration at being separated. Whenever you find yourself getting riled up, take a deep breath and count to ten. Don't hang up on the other person because it will make the whole situation worse.
Try to be fair when you're fighting and do not resort to name calling and being mean. Instead of raising your voice or yelling, try to calm down and either take a break and call back in ten minutes or just take a moment while still talking to the other person.
Work at expressing yourselves clearly, articulately, and recognizing when the problem is actually distance. Explain what it is that is upsetting you rather than blaming the other person. Hopefully this will help keep the fight from getting too nasty.
It's hard to resolve a fight when you cannot physically hold a person or kiss and make up. You might need to think of other ways to show that you have forgiven or been forgiven. Maybe be extra verbally affectionate or even send a good old-fashioned love letter. Get creative and try to remember that, despite any differences, this person is pretty awesome for sticking out this long-distance relationship with you!
5. Make Technology Work For You
Utilize technology because it'll let you feel more connected. If you both have smartphones, then use WhatsApp, Skype, FaceTime, Facebook, Google Hangouts, or whatever app you prefer (Mashable has a great list of apps for study abroad students) to stay connected.
This will allow you to not only chat spontaneously throughout the day and share inside jokes or momentous events as they happen, but you can also see each other if you video call. This will help you remember who you're with and why you're deciding to be in this relationship.
While you may inevitably begin to forget little things, as long as you can keep a clear enough picture of your significant other, you might just make it through.
6. Maintain Shared Interests
If you want to keep your long distance relationship afloat, you need to maintain similar interests. Have something in common that continues to be a binding force in your relationship.
Don't lose the ability to grow as a couple and to experience life as a loving unit.
Watch a movie together over Skype and then pretend that you had a date night. Read and recommend books to each other. Instagram photos of your cooked meals and act like you prepared them together. Don't lose the ability to grow as a couple and to experience life as a loving unit.
7. Continue To Be Spontaneous
Just because your partner is in another country does not mean that you can't be spontaneous and loving. Order flowers to be delivered, send care packages, or even just letters. Give them paintings, poems, or record a video of you saying something sweet so that they wake up with a lovely gift from you.
Getting something tangible from the other person reinforces that your relationship is real and solid. Especially with a little help from technology (or some friends back home?), there's no excuse for you not to continue with those small, but meaningful gestures that'll keep your relationship healthy, exciting, and the two of you anticipating seeing each other again.
In the end, remember to try not to get too caught up in your significant other. A healthy relationship is one in which each partner encourages the other to have their own passions and interests. If you're going through culture shock or experiencing post-study abroad culture shock, having a supportive partner can make all the difference.
While your relationship should be a means of support, it should not be what holds you back from living in the moment and in the place that you're in physically. Long distance relationships are difficult but they can be incredibly rewarding, especially when you come home to your girlfriend / boyfriend post study abroad.
Think about being able to look back at your time apart and knowing that your love was strong enough to survive. If you can stay together through separation, you can stay together through anything life throws at you.