Alumni Advice: Being in a Relationship While Studying Abroad

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Victoria Bruick
February 13, 2018

Does “distance makes the heart grow fonder” or is it more accurate to say “out of sight, out of mind”? If you are in a relationship while you study abroad, there are more than a few questions you may be asking yourself and your significant other. “How will we communicate?” “What are our expectations?”

While the answers to these questions are different for every individual and couple, we asked our IES Abroad Ambassadors to share their advice on being in a relationship while studying abroad.

Be Realistic About Change

  • “It's normal to grow throughout the duration of months, so don't let a relationship hinder this. For the relationship to best continue post-abroad adventures, it is important to understand how both [people] have changed, and you could even come back together stronger than before. My point is not to put too much pressure on the relationship and let the relationship evolve, just as your ‘self’ is evolving during this valuable time in your life.” 
    - Anthony M. (IES Abroad Amsterdam | Skidmore College)

student sitting on rocks with mountain in background

Let Them Know You'll Be Busy...and Then Stay Busy!

  • “If you're going to be busy for a few days, let them know! They will understand if you're traveling and experiencing new things. Send pictures, and make plans to make the foods that you're eating when you get home.”
    - Nataly T. (IES Abroad Siena | Kenyon College)
  • “Make sure that the other person knows that you are going to be extremely busy while you are away, not necessarily with classes, but with exploration and meeting new people. This can be hard on the other person and it might make them feel like you don't value them enough to talk as often as you used to, but reassure them that this is not the case.”
    – Leana Y. (IES Abroad Dublin | University of Illinois at Chicago)
  • “Stay busy! If you're truly making the most of your study abroad experience, you won't have time to sit in your room and mope about how much you miss your significant other. Yes, it will totally stink to be apart, but instead of feeling bad for yourself, explore the country/city you're in so you're better prepared to share it with your significant other someday!”
    – Anna G. (IES Abroad London | Indiana University)

student playing frisbee

Schedule Time to Talk with Each Other

  • “Keep in contact! Tell each other about your days, see each other face to face on Skype or FaceTime. I loved being able to share everything I was learning and experiencing with my partner. It helped me feel a lot closer to him!”
    – Anthony A. (IES Abroad Madrid & IES Abroad Quito | Sarah Lawrence College)
  • “Having a scheduled time (or couple of times) every week to FaceTime is really reassuring, and it's helpful to have it blocked out in your hectic schedule. Also, having a conversation before you leave about your expectations for communication and staying in contact while you're abroad is very important. This way, you'll be able hold each other accountable and neither one of you will end up disappointed (or annoyed) by the lack of (or excess of) communication!”
    – Savannah R. (IES Abroad Madrid | Bradley University)

student on laptop sitting on bed

Send Gifts to Each Other

  • “Sending them a package with some goodies from your host country while you're abroad is a good way to let them know that you're thinking about them!”
    – Julia K. (IES Abroad Nagoya | Villanova University)
  • “Around Valentine’s Day, it helped that my boyfriend sent me flowers in Barcelona to show that we can still feel close while physically apart.”
    – Lucy S. (IES Abroad Barcelona | University of Wisconsin – Madison)

bouquet of flowers

Share Photos as Quick Updates

  • “I think keeping up-to-date and sending photos about your experience are two ways to remove the many thousand miles in between.”
    – Brandon P. (IES Abroad Shanghai | Berea College)
  • “Think about setting up a photo sharing album, so that when you're telling each other about your adventures, whether at home or abroad, you both feel more connected to each other's experiences.”
    – Anna G. (IES Abroad London | Indiana University)

student taking photo on her phone of pigs

Invite Them to Visit You or Travel Together

  • “I have a long-term, long-distance boyfriend who was also abroad at the same time in a different country. We were able to visit one another, but also had fun on our own. Remember to trust one another and make your own memories. It will only make your relationship stronger!”
    – Katie D. (IES Abroad London | Indiana University)
  • “Staying in a relationship abroad might not sound ideal but it is definitely a challenge that has the potential to strengthen relationships…It was a difficult journey, but, a year later, we are still together and definitely appreciate the experience! It also helped that he was able to visit me and have the time of our lives in both Barcelona and Rome!”
    – Lucy S. (IES Abroad Barcelona | University of Wisconsin – Madison)

two students hugging with Barcelona skyline

Consider Taking a Break

  • “I broke up with my girlfriend before studying abroad, and frankly, it was the best decision I could have made for myself. To have the feeling of true freedom abroad was something I will cherish forever. It's more than just going out and meeting other people; having no pressure to constantly communicate with someone, especially when traveling, was really nice to have.”
    – Joe M. (IES Abroad Vienna | Indiana University)
  • “Sometimes I found myself so wrapped up in our relationship that I was missing out on all the fun, plus the super-long distance and seven-hour time difference really took a toll on us. We ended up taking a break mid-semester, and planned to do something really nice when I got back to the States! Remember, have fun and try not to stress too much about situations that you simply can't control.” 
    – Miana M. (IES Abroad Cape Town | Howard University)
  • “There is nothing wrong with breaking up. It gives you time to reflect on your relationship. Just don't overthink it. If you are unsure, I recommend giving [long distance] a try…The first few weeks will be crazy. Wait until you have established a schedule, then see what works.”
    – Darren A. (IES Abroad Berlin | University of California, Berkeley)
  • “Long distance is hard for anyone, and unless you're really secure in your relationship and trusting of your partner I would say take a quick break. Spending time apart to explore your options or rediscover yourself can be healthy! Taking that time will help establish if your partner really is the one for you.”
    – Kameelah S. (IES Abroad Shanghai | Spelman College)

student walking in garden

Ultimately, Do What's Best for You

  • “I was in a relationship while I was abroad, and even though my boyfriend was 6,000 miles away, we still found time to talk a little each day. A lot of my friends told me I was crazy to try to make a long distance relationship work when I was going to be gone for almost five months, but I thought that having someone at home to talk to would be good for me, and I was right!”
    – Maia G. (IES Abroad Vienna | University of Redlands)
  • “Being in a relationship is tricky to generalize because everyone's needs and relationships are different. I had friends who stayed with their significant other throughout their time abroad, friends who found love while they were there, and friends who became single for their time abroad. All can be good options; it really just depends what is best for you. The most important thing to keep in mind is that a semester abroad is the chance of a lifetime, you don't want to be constantly dwelling on the state of your relationship. Do what is best for you, while considering the feelings of any other people involved.”
    – Kati S. (IES Abroad Granada | Ithaca College)

student standing in front of street art in Salamanca, Spain

Your romantic relationship isn’t the only relationship to think about when you study abroad. Check out more thoughts from our IES Abroad Ambassadors on your relationships with new friends and with yourself:

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