Safe Travels: Tips on Dating Across Cultures as an International Student

Living in the United States as an international student is an experience unlike any other. It comes with the highest highs and the lowest lows, yet not many write about it. It’s hard to overcome cultural barriers, let alone to put words on your feelings. But I think the mystery around studying abroad for four years has got to end. Through this new series “Safe Travels,” I hope to shine a light on the inspiring surprises and the discouraging moments of the international student experience so that foreign and domestic communities can better understand, appreciate, and support each other. Without further ado, let’s get into the very first article!

She’s my world but I wasn’t born in hers.

My girlfriend is Taiwanese-American; I’m French. My girlfriend is Asian-American; I’m white. We come from very different cultures and paths. I believe that our relationship is beautiful and that our differences make us stronger because we put so much effort into understanding each other’s perspectives. But make no mistake, it does take work to build a healthy foundation for our couple when misunderstandings occur.

Any relationship requires you to be humble and patient. Multicultural relationships require you to go the extra mile—both literally and figuratively. They are challenging but also so rewarding. At the end of the day, you learn so much about living and loving someone who comes from a different background as you. If you’re willing to overcome cultural challenges together, few other things will hold you back. 

Here are seven things that I came to understand over the course of our relationship that I wish I had known before. These tips are both for international students and their partners!

  1. 1. Communication is key

    This is especially true at the beginning of the relationship. Coming from different countries, it’s very likely that you don’t share the same exact values or lifestyle. And that’s okay as long as you respect the other person’s views. However, if they make you feel like you have to choose between your traditions and them, that’s a huge issue. You should never feel like you have to change your core values to fit into your new culture.

  2. 2. To love is to travel

    If you’re in a multicultural relationship, chances are that at least one of you will travel back and forth to their home country quite a lot. If you can’t afford to travel and are willing to go long-distance, be sure to stay in touch as much as possible. If you are able to save up, you should go the extra mile and visit your significant other’s home country. It really does make a huge difference in the sense that you’ll be able to understand their mindset a lot more after seeing in person what life is like where they come from. I feel that a part of my personality just doesn’t come through in the United States because of the language barrier. It’s hard to be fully yourself when you’re navigating cultural constraints, so being able to show my partner who I really am when she came to my country meant the world to me.

  3. 3. Learn about your SO’s culture

    If you want to avoid unnecessary clashes, take time to learn about your SO’s culture. You could watch a few movies from their home country or some YouTube videos about cultural differences. You could also lookup typical foods that are enjoyed there. Not only will it give you and your partner something to talk about, but it’ll also show how much you care about this aspect of your relationship.

  4. 4. Learn your SO’s language

    Even if you share a common language, try and learn at least a few sentences in the other person’s language. So much is communicated through words and translation can’t quite come close to the original language. Besides, it’s not fair if one of you has to learn English, but the other person gets away with not making any effort. If you can find the resources to make progress in your SO’s language, the relationship will feel more balanced.

  5. 5. Take your SO to places that feel like home

    If you’re dating an international student, chances are they are homesick. Homesickness comes in waves, and sometimes international students will feel completely overwhelmed by the amount of distance between them and their home country. It gets worse during the holiday season if your SO is staying on campus for Thanksgiving break and swipes through the stories of everyone’s family reunion. Things can also be hard when there’s no big international community on campus, or if there’s a big international community where a few select countries are represented. Be supportive of your SO and try to take them out on dates to a restaurant with their home country’s cuisine or watch a movie from their home country with them. These small gestures go a long way in showing empathy.

  6. 6. If you’re in an interracial relationship, educate yourself on racial issues

    This goes without saying, but being in an interracial relationship means you HAVE to learn about your SO’s struggles and the discrimination they face every day. This is critical in order to understand their setbacks and adequately show support.

  7. 7. Accept miscommunication and forgive

    You can try all you can, but some differences will probably remain between you and your SO. Don’t be too harsh on yourself. Having different upbringings does not mean everything and it doesn’t take away the love that you two share.

Cultural differences make dating complicated at times, but love is worth overcoming these challenges! Keep reflecting on your relationship, put in the work, and watch things blossom between the two of you.


Want to keep up with HCBU? Make sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, check out our Pinterest board, and read our latest Tweets!