One of the hardest parts about studying abroad is maintaining relationships with people at home. I would even say it is the hardest part. Everyone deals with it in their own way—some people try to unplug from their life in their home country, others set up regular calling schedules, others keep in touch by text and Facebook messenger. Social media can make things easier and harder—it’s easier to connect, but harder to go deeper. It’s the same with texting—exchanging a few tidbits is a breeze, yet because of the time difference a simple response to the question “how are you?” can stretch over more than six hours. Conversations straddling the Atlantic Ocean can mean that while one person is starting the day the other is ending it. In conclusion—not always super fun.
While abroad, it’s hard to be present in a new place while maintaining strong connections. Particularly romantic ones. Though I’m usually pretty private, when I initially read Emily Churchill’s blog post before going abroad (https://www.iesabroad.org/blogs/emily-churchill/few-words-falling-loveabroad#sthash.ByknZ1VM.dpbs) I was amazed by how open and honest she was. Reading it again six months later and having my own romantic troubles, her words helped me feel much less alone. And so, given that, I want to share a jumbled rant of some things I knew but didn’t really know until I got here, some things I realized, and a few pieces of mangled advice.
Communication is really hard. It may seem dumb or obvious but time differences are more than mere hour changes. They mean that you and your loved ones are constantly in different frames of mind. A lot of the subtleties of tone and facial expressions can get lost in a FaceTime call. Scheduling set times to talk with people or opting for less time-sensitive methods like letters and emails can take a lot of the edge off. There is no immediacy like being in person with someone, and these other methods of communication don’t try to attain that immediacy—instead they opt for other forms of connection.
Maintaining relationships abroad is completely possible. There are plenty of people who talk with family, best friends, and significant others daily while studying abroad here in Spain. But, being in different countries changes things. And while it may work for some people, it may not work for others. Fear of the effect study abroad may have on your relationships should not stop you from trying to make things work while abroad. Nor should it stop you from going abroad at all (I repeat, do not let this stop you from going abroad). Growth and change are natural and healthy parts of life. Of course it can be hard at times, but there is strength in coming out the other side—whatever that may look like. The “you” you become studying abroad is someone different than the “you” of your home country, and though at times it may be difficult to accept, these two different versions of yourself have distinct needs and abilities.
A lot of people say that study abroad changes you hugely. Before coming I always shied away from that notion. I didn’t like the idea of coming back someone different. I didn’t like the idea that an experience would mold me no matter how I felt. What I didn’t realize is that while abroad though you are responding to a new life in a new place—at the end of the day it is you who ‘molds’ yourself. You are the one who changes and grows within the experience, and it doesn’t happen all at once, it happens slowly.
Sometimes, you are forced more immediately to realize and accept that you can’t simultaneously do everything you can do abroad and everything you do while at home. Change is not always easy, but it is not always bad either. As cliché as it may sound, it can make you stronger and give you important perspective. While abroad it’s hard to accept that anything at home may change and that the lives of the people you love are continuing to develop. Fear of missing out (FOMO) comes on strongly and it can be difficult to take a step back. What I recommend is taking time for yourself. Do your favorite things. Paint. Go running. Try to spend less time worrying about how to maintain relationships exactly as they have been at home, and more time enjoying the place in which you find yourself. Just as your friends and family at home are continuing to live their lives and having new experiences—you too are doing new exciting things. Relish the opportunity to get to know where you are right now better and to embrace it in these newly opened moments. Be present. Realize that you are not alone.