I’d planned on spending a semester abroad since middle school. What I hadn’t planned on was being in a serious relationship when the time came to pack my bags and go. But that’s where I found myself last fall.
A quick look at my search history testifies to my inner turmoil at the time. “Dating while studying abroad.” “Long distance dating tips.” “Can you study abroad with a boyfriend?” The Internet answered my cries for help, but not the way I wanted. Many articles I found urged prospective study abroad students to ditch romantic relationships back home so they wouldn’t be dragged down while exploring the world.
|He carved and stained a wooden heart for me as a little memento to hold onto while we're apart.|
Well, I wasn’t going to do that. My relationship was too important to throw away over a study abroad trip. So I convinced myself I didn’t want to go.
That plan didn’t work so well. I’m writing this from a café in Seville, Spain right now, three months into my program. My boyfriend’s asleep right now—Spain is six hours ahead of Virginia—but we’re doing just fine. When I think about the amazing things I’ve experienced this semester, I can’t believe I almost gave it all up out of fear.
In the beginning, we sent each other our class and work schedules and called in our spare moments, eventually settling into a comfortable pattern. We didn’t talk as much as we would’ve liked, but that was okay. When we couldn’t call, we texted. He didn’t come visit (flights are expensive!), but both of us have been busy with our own lives, so the time apart has felt doable.
There were hiccups, of course. Sometimes, it felt like there was nothing to talk about. We were on opposite sides of the world, experiencing totally different things, and simply recounting the day’s events for each other got boring. To feel more connected, we’d watch Netflix shows together while video calling or send each other music to listen to. A few times, one of us would Venmo the other a few dollars for coffee or shopping as a little token of affection.
Some people said a long-distance relationship would detract from my time in Spain. But I think it enhanced the experience. This semester apart has given us both a chance to grow in independence and self-confidence; we made new friends and tried new things to fill the time we’d normally spend together. But we’ve still shared life together and relied on each other for comfort and stability in this time of change. In a week, we’ll reunite as more mature and well-rounded versions of ourselves.
At first, I was afraid we’d grow apart so drastically that we wouldn’t be able to date anymore. But I’m learning that change can be a good thing. I don’t ever want to be stagnant; I want to always be learning and growing as a person. And I want someone who will learn and grow with me. I think that’s the beauty of long-term relationships: imperfect people finding a middle ground between two lifetimes of unique experiences, loving each other through the changes.
You’re going to change, whether you’re abroad or at home. But if both parties are willing to make it work, your relationship can survive—even thrive—through a study abroad experience. It’s a big step, and it’s scary and uncertain, but don’t let fear hold you back. I have a feeling you’ll thank yourself later.
Shannon Gage is a CEA Fall 2019 Content Contributor studying abroad in Seville, Spain. She is currently a student at Liberty University.
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