Want to improve your relationship building skills? Study abroad.
I can testify to this: as of February 2012, I’ve been with my girlfriend for four years.
I studied abroad in Marseille, France at the AUCP center in the spring of 2008. Marseille was a natural choice for me, as I had been taking French since the seventh grade, was a big fan of the beach, and for some reason wasn’t really into the idea of studying in Paris.
Like most single guys in college, I was hoping to meet attractive girls. In particular, I was hoping to meet an attractive French girl with whom I could spend a romantic spring semester.
Instead, I met a girl from my school. We spent our first “date” in Rome and have shared many domestic and international adventures over the past four years.
Study abroad is an excellent way to figure out what qualities you do and don’t like in a person – friends, lovers, and even yourself. While you may not come out of a study abroad program with a girlfriend or boyfriend, you’ll have many more relationship building skills in your arsenal. Here’s why:
- Study abroad forces you to hang out with people you otherwise wouldn’t have.
- Travel and being in a radically different environment exposes hidden sides of personalities.
- You’ll learn the power of shared experiences: both positive and negative.
The New Girl Friend (Not Girlfriend)
At college, my group of friends mainly consisted of other NROTC students. But when I started my study abroad program, my peers were much more diverse. They were students from different universities who wanted to do things other than join the military. There were a variety of personality types: those who loved to party and others who were more laid back, those who studied quite a bit and others who didn’t.
Because I was exposed to such a diverse group of people, I felt more confident about my ability to build relationships with just about anybody.
The program included a class trip to Morocco. A group of us went to Marrakesh and stayed at a hostel. There were no rooms, but they gave us some blankets and let us sleep on the roof. I didn’t sleep well because it was physically uncomfortable, so I found myself awake at 5 AM. Another girl from my program experienced the same problem. She had been one of the shy ones in the program and I had not talked to her all that much up to that point. I asked her if she would like to go exploring. She said yes.
We spent the morning wandering around lost in Marrakech, watching the vendors and storekeepers set up for the day. We talked quite a bit and picked up breakfast for the rest of the group. It was a lot of fun.
I never would have known this girl had I not studied abroad. While we’re not best friends, I’d feel comfortable traveling with her again.
I now know I can explore Morocco with anyone.
What Happens When Your Italian Train Breaks Down
After my program ended, my girlfriend and I traveled to Turkey and Greece. Our flights to the US left from Marseille. Wanting to save a few bucks, we decided to fly from Athens to Milan, and then take a train from Milan all the way back to Marseille.
The train broke down. We missed our connecting train in Nice, and had to spend the night at the train station while trying to figure out how to get a new ticket for free.
My girlfriend did not react well.
She was tired, stressed, and just wanted to be home already. We like to call this state of emotional distress “turning into a puddle.”
Since I met her, she had been cool, calm, and collected. This was the first time I’ve seen her get visibly upset.
I’m grateful for the experience.
I came to know this side of her in a relatively short period of time. If we had been dating back in the States, I might not have seen this side of her for at least a year!
I got to know the full spectrum of her personality at a much more accelerated rate because we studied abroad and traveled together. We are still together and looking forward to taking a round-the-world trip in a few years.
The Power of Shared Experiences
One of my study abroad friends lives pretty close to me in Boston. We recently got together for dinner at an Algerian restaurant, three and a half years after our study abroad program ended.
We talked for a long time about the best and worst restaurants in Marseille, our host families, and our class trip to Morocco. We talked about the most awesome experiences as well as the awful ones.
We also talked about our present lives and our plans for the future.
For a relationship that only took four months to develop, it’s amazing that we were able to have such a meaningful conversation without having talked that much over a three-year time period.
Relationship Building Takeaways
- Use study abroad and travel as a way to get to know someone quickly. It may turn out that the cute boy or girl you had a cru has some negative traits that are deal breakers (for boyfriend/girlfriend purposes). On the flip side, it may bring you two closer together.
- Don’t be afraid to e-mail them a few years after your program ends and see how they’re doing. You’ll be friends with the students in your program for a long, long time. It won’t matter that you haven’t spoken to them since that time you both were lost in Marrakech.
- Use your new relationship-building skills in other areas of your life. If you need to start networking professionall confident that you can establish common ground with anybody. If you want to get along better with someone you know, think back to those times you shared a six-hour train ride with a group of tired college kids.
How has travel helped you develop relationship-building skills?