How to Maintain Your Relationship Back Home While You Study Abroad

If you’re a college student, you’ve most likely fantasized about studying abroad since your freshman year. Now, you finally have the opportunity to go. Though a part of you is thrilled to travel to the city of your dreams, eat delicious foreign food, and embrace your inner Lizzie Maguire, there is just one thing weighing heavy on your mind: your significant other. Whether you’ve already had a long chat about how you plan to proceed with your relationship in the coming months or you're putting it off until the last possible second, there is no way around the reality that the gap between you and your SO is literally about to widen.

Now, it isn’t to say that you can’t make long-distance work, because it can be done. However, there will be some difficulty.

Before things get too complicated, take the time to stop and consider what you really want out of your relationship with your partner. Before you get checked by the TSA to board your flight, read on for a few tips on how to navigate the rollercoaster of emotions that you’re probably feeling about parting ways with your person next semester.

Technology is your new best friend

If you and your boo decide to give long distance a try, get ready for your relationship to become a whole lot more digital. Sure, you two may already Snapchat and FaceTime daily, but you’ve probably always used these platforms as additional forms of communication. More than likely, you’ve never had to rely on these digital tools as your only form of staying in touch.

While there are undeniable challenges that come with communicating through a screen (i.e. poor connection, miscommunication, and time-zone differences), with a little effort and a solid schedule, it can actually be kind of fun! Consistency is key, so be sure to create a weekly schedule for when you and your partner will talk over the phone or FaceTime. Hold yourself to these pre-arranged times and be sure to keep reminders. By establishing a regular agenda for when you will check in with one another, you can maintain a sense of routine despite the physical distance between the two of you.

Try something new and spice things up via FaceTime, only if you’re comfortable. Luckily, we live in a day and age where we can stay connected through our phones. While nothing can beat a face-to-face interaction, by getting a little flirtatious (or even risque) over the phone, you’ll build up the anticipation of reuniting even more and make the moment you finally see them in person again even better.  

Honesty is the best policy

It is almost guaranteed that you will encounter your fair share of distractions while abroad. Some of these distractions—i.e. the cute British person in your class—may be more tempting than others. The space between you and your partner will be wider than ever before, so you need to be especially diligent when keeping each other in the loop about your feelings. 

If you are three months into your trip and suddenly find yourself having a change of heart, remember that communication is essential! It is important to first be honest with yourself about how your feelings may have changed over the course of your travels. Studying abroad is a major life transition, so it is not far-fetched that your emotions or needs might change while you are away. And that is okay! Just keep in mind your partner’s feelings. If you do decide that you are no longer invested in the relationship, respectfully let them know before acting on any other potential love interests. It’s the right thing to do.

Keep a diary

With classes, new roommates, and a new country, your mind will probably be running a mile a minute while you are first adjusting to life abroad. One of the most effective (and not to mention cheapest) ways to process any new emotions you may be experiencing is to keep a journal. If you already have a journal that you write in back home, consider investing in a new one dedicated to your time abroad.

You don’t necessarily have to write every day, but do try to jot down your reflections at least once a week. One solid strategy is to use the rose, bud, thorn strategy. Start by writing down your “rose,” which is anything that happened in the week that you enjoyed/were proud of. Next record your “thorn,” which is something you experienced that made you upset, left a bad taste in your mouth or that you felt disappointed about. Finally, write out a “bud,” something you are looking forward to in the weeks to come.

Rose, bud, thorn is a great way to get your mental juices flowing and help you sort through your feelings, which, far from home and familiarity, may be fluctuating more than usual. See how often your rose, bud, and thorn have to do with your SO. Are you still glowing from your last FaceTime session? Or did it leave you feeling confused or irritated? If you find that more and more seeing your SO again is not a “bud” on your mind, it may be a good time to pause and reassess the direction your relationship is taking.

Related: What To Do If You’re Thinking About Breaking Up With Your SO 

Enjoy your time abroad  

Your study abroad is for you. This is your time to explore who you are and who you want to be without limits or major responsibilities. No one should be holding you back from that. If you find yourself hesitating about immersing yourself into your new school environment, evaluate whether this sense of restraint is coming from your relationship back home.

Are you turning down invitations to grab dinner or canceling plans for a night out with your roommates because your partner won’t stop calling? This could be a red flag. The relationships you keep up should always strengthen your life, not weaken it. Your SO should be a bonus to your already full life, not a dominating force that inhibits you from embracing all that your study abroad opportunity has to offer.

If you start to feel like your relationship is preventing you from fully embracing your experience abroad, have a conversation with your SO. Explain your perspective and hear them out too. Are they open or opposed to the idea of you going out with your new friends more? Or are they opposed? Depending on their stance, you may want to consider whether your partner is helping or hindering your personal growth.

It’s okay to let it go

Some things just aren’t meant to last forever. This might be one of the hardest pills to swallow. We often feel that something that was good for us once will be just as good for us forever, which simply isn’t true. If you find that the time you’ve spent apart is leading to more bickering and begrudging FaceTime calls than giggly and stimulating ones, it’s probably a sign to re-evaluate whether or not you want to stay together.

Throughout all of college, we are changing more than ever before. Studying abroad is practically guaranteed to change something about you, whether it is something as minor as your taste in music or as big as your preferences in a romantic partner. Of course, change is scary. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t embrace it.

If you start to feel like the path your life is taking is one that might not include your partner, realize that it is okay. As long as you are upfront with your SO about what you want for yourself and out of your relationship, no one can fault you.

If you take away one piece of advice from this article, take this. The chance to live abroad is once-in-a-lifetime. It’s a privilege to live in a new place, embrace a new culture, and discover a new side of yourself. This process of self-discovery is a beautiful thing, but it is your process and yours alone. So, be a little bit selfish! Now, it’s not to say that you can’t have your SO rooting for you as you navigate uncharted waters and live it up overseas, but let that relationship be an addition to, not the foundation of your journey.