Studying abroad comes with a lot of challenges: Navigating a new city and culture, learning a new language. Amidst it all, you might also be trying to maintain a relationship back home. From the moment my boyfriend and I started dating last year, we knew this was coming. I’ve wanted to study abroad since high school, and had long planned to spend this semester in South America.
That didn’t make it easier to get on a plane and say, “See you in six months!” But we knew we wanted to give our long distance relationship a shot. Four months later, we’re still going strong. Here’s what I’ve learned.
1. Plan before you leave.
In the months before I left for Chile, we talked a lot about how we to continue our relationship despite the distance. What were our expectations of each other? How would we keep in touch? How often would we call or FaceTime? We had open conversations about our worries and our hopes for this semester apart. It’s important to discuss your concerns early if either of you has doubts about the experience.
It helped us to plan fun ways to keep each other present in our lives (warning: this is going to get gooey). I brought one of his flannel shirts with me, and the journal I write in every day was a gift from him. Before I left, I wrote him 182 love notes (one for each day we’ll be apart) and put them into a jar so he can hear from me even when I can’t actually talk to him.
2. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
You don’t have to constantly text or Skype, but it’s important to be part of each other’s day-to-day life as much as you can. Since Wi-Fi is pretty abundant in Chile, we chat regularly and send videos and articles we find funny or interesting.
There are so many ways to stay in touch now without needing to buy a data plan. WhatsApp has been our go-to for text messaging and audio calls over wi-fi. For video chat, consider FaceTime or Skype. The major game-changer we discovered is Rabbit. This website allows you to video chat and watch TV or movies together. You can use it to watch basically anything, from Netflix and HBO to YouTube videos, so your significant other has no excuse for watching Game of Thrones without you.
3. Enjoy the freedoms that come with being in a relationship.
People have asked me many times whether I feel tied down or restricted. I don’t, and here’s why: I don’t have to worry about boys anymore. It’s all about your mentality. You can get down because you can’t kiss that cute guy at the club, or you can enjoy not dealing with drama. There’s freedom in feeling like you can talk to anyone while confidently knowing there’s no way anything romantic will happen.
Having an significant other back home also means there’s someone outside your abroad network who has always got your back. Sometimes I really need to complain about friends or classes and I can vent my frustrations, knowing I’ll have his full support.
4. Remember it’s hard for your s.o., too.
Your s.o. cares and will worry about you. Remember to share your travel plans and send a heads up when you’ll be out of touch. This goes a long way toward easing concerns for your wellbeing.
Make sure your conversations aren’t always centered on you. You’re the one trying to figure out a new way of life, that doesn’t mean your s.o.’s life is on pause. Remember to ask about them and provide support when it’s needed. Get excited about the events in each other’s lives, even though you can’t share them in person.
5. Don’t be afraid to fight once in a while.
Study abroad is a big opportunity for you to grow as a person, so your relationship will have to grow too. And that can mean growing pains—miscommunications, envy, resentment. Small miscues can become much bigger with time and distance apart. Be open and honest about your thoughts and feelings, and share your different perspectives. They might conflict and that’s okay. As hard as it may be, talk through issues as they come up. We have had our fair share of arguments these past four months, and each time we’ve worked through them and come out a stronger as a result.
6. Recognize when it’s not working.
Any relationship takes work, and sometimes one or both of you can’t make the effort. One of my good friends here was in a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend for two years, and after a couple of months abroad they realized it wasn’t working. The way they saw it, they were experiencing all the hardships of a relationship without enjoying any of the benefits. They decided to take a break and figure things out when she gets back. Sometimes that’s what you have to do.
For me—and many others I know—the benefits have outweighed the hardships. When I feel down nothing cheers me up like getting an impromptu ‘I love you’ text from my boyfriend. Having his support and encouragement while I’ve been in Chile has made the other challenges of study abroad easier to overcome.
The key to successfully navigating a long-distance relationship is to know yourself and your s.o. Come prepared, keep communication open, and work through the bumps as they come. Take this time apart to grow and learn about yourselves as people, so that when you get home, you’ll have lots of new stories to share.
—Olivia B. (Colorado College), IFSA Chilean Universities Program, IFSA Work-to-Study Program marketing intern