Navigating a Long-Distance Relationship While Abroad

Grace Heaton square headshot
Grace Heaton
March 26, 2024

If you had asked me a year and a half ago if I would be going to France with a boyfriend back in the States, my answer would have been a hard no. When I was planning to go abroad for a second time, I told myself I would not date so that I would not have to learn how to navigate the trials and tribulations of long-distance while abroad.

Well, fate took a turn last January when I met Francis. He was kind, smart, incredibly funny, and very good-looking as well. How could I say no to going on a date with him?

One thing led to another and by the middle of February 2023, we were officially dating. We talked about my situation early on in our relationship, and I told him that the two of us getting together would not change my plans to study abroad. He fully supported my plans and told me that he wanted me to go and experience all that I could. 

So, come December 2023, we said tearful goodbyes as I got on a plane to head back to Portland, Oregon (my hometown) before jetting off to Nantes for the upcoming semester. We didn’t know if he was going to be able to visit during or after my semester in Nantes, and the only thing that felt sure was that we loved each other and wanted to try to make this work.

Christmastime was fine, we had dealt with long distance before when I went home for the summer of 2023. So the first few weeks of our separation felt more normal, as we were used to navigating long-distance with the three-hour time difference. Once we both went back to school, and I moved to France for the semester, though, things got more complicated.

Instead of a three-hour time difference, we were now navigating a six-hour time difference. That meant that most days, the earliest we could call was 9 p.m. my time and 3 p.m. his time. This was after dinner with my host family for me and after most of his classes had ended. At first, it was difficult to figure out what time worked best to call, but after we were a few weeks into the semester, things normalized. One thing we talked about before I left was our goal to call at least once a day, even if it was just for 5 minutes. 

Neither of us enjoy texting every minute of the day, so calling once a day works a lot better for us to recap our days and to talk about other topics. In the 15 weeks that we’ve been long distance so far, we have only not been able to call one time. And, on that day, we texted more than normal to update one another. Throughout this whole experience, I have felt extremely supported and loved, and I am so grateful that Francis wakes up every day and continues to show me how much he loves me. Whether it’s sending little texts of encouragement when one of us has a difficult day or joking on the phone about things that are happening around us, he has been my rock during this entire experience, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

On top of daily communication, we try to make long-distance as fun as possible. On our anniversary, which passed in February, and on Valentine’s Day, we each bought desserts and enjoyed them on the phone together. It was very fun to do something different to celebrate these important milestones in our relationship.

He also was able to make his way out to France for spring break. By some miracle, our spring breaks lined up, so I met him at the airport in Paris at the beginning of March, and we spent an amazing week traveling in Paris, Brittany, and Nantes. He got to see where I am studying and meet some of my friends, and we both got to explore some new areas of France as well. It was definitely the best week of my semester.

The goodbye was once again very difficult, though. After returning from break, we both found ourselves very sad and having trouble lifting our spirits again. Luckily, thanks to good friends and our continued calls, we were able to get back to a normal routine, looking forward to seeing each other again in early May. 

Every person’s experience with long distance will be different, but if you take anything from this post, know your relationship isn’t doomed to end if you decide to study abroad. Different tactics of communication work differently for everyone, and the key is not doing a specific set of things every day, but more so finding unique ways to show one another that you care. 

If I could give three pieces of advice to everyone about to start navigating this difficult situation, here is what I would say:

  1. Trust is everything. If you don’t trust your partner and your partner doesn’t trust you, all the normal difficulties in a relationship are going to become even bigger. Trust is the foundation of all healthy relationships, in my opinion, and even more so for those in long-distance relationships.
  2. Try leaning into other love languages to express yourselves. Both Francis and I are physical touch people when we’re together, so not having the ability to hold his hand when I’ve been in Nantes has been very difficult at times. So, we have made an effort to show our gratitude and feelings for each other in other ways. We send long texts of encouragement and compliments to one another once in a while. Additionally, we try to make our long-distance dates fun and echo more quality time, by getting desserts occasionally to share a moment and change up our routines.
  3. Try to live in the moment and make the most of your time apart. You are probably only going to experience living abroad once in your life, and so making the most of your time is imperative. It can be very easy to focus solely on the future—don’t get me wrong, I do have a countdown on my phone of the number of days left until I see him—but make sure to go explore with your friends, travel, and lean on others in tough times. Studying abroad is one of the best decisions I have made in my college years, and it has changed me in many good ways. You both are taking this time to learn more about yourselves so you can grow together, so the time away is not necessarily a bad thing. 

Some people might tell you to not do long-distance while you are abroad because your relationship won’t grow. I will tell you the opposite. I think long-distance has made our relationship stronger. Furthermore, I appreciate the time I have with Francis so much more, as we don’t take those moments for granted. Long-distance has encouraged us to find other ways of expressing our love, so we are not only relying on one or two love languages but, rather, all of them. This strengthened our communication skills and made us work as a team to confront challenging situations, rather than by ourselves. 

Long distance is hard. But you can succeed, and you will be back in the arms of your significant other sooner than you think. Make the most of your time abroad and don’t worry as much about what’s to come. It will be ok.

More Blogs From This Author

Grace posign in front of a Chateau in the Loire Valley
Grace Heaton ,

Do It Scared!

Delve into the world of life in Nantes, France with me as I discuss all that the adjustment period of study abroad brings!

View All Blogs
Grace Heaton square headshot

Grace Heaton

Hi! My name is Grace Heaton and I am thrilled to be studying abroad in Vienna during the Fall 2022 semester. I am an incoming Sophomore at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA studying Marketing, French, and German. In my free time I enjoy traveling, learning languages, listening to music, going to coffee shops, and adventuring with friends! I am excited to immerse myself in Austrian culture this fall, and can't wait to see where this journey takes me!

Home University:
Duquesne University
Portland, OR
French Language
Explore Blogs