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What I have learned about having a long-distance relationship whilst studying abroad

21 October 2019

When you start university, you are often told about the fresher relationship. The fresher relationship is someone you meet in the beginning of first year and have a whirlwind romance before it fizzles out before the semester is out. Apparently not one to join the stereotype, I am here two years later with that person I met on my very first day at Cardiff University.

Ben and I met through a Facebook Group Chat as we would be living in the same house in halls. We hit it off quickly and when we officially met, the rest was history.

Students typically are advised to or independently avoid relationships when they study abroad. Distance is a difficult trial of a relationship, especially if you are in a same university or city relationship. It is a shock to the routine when the time you would usually see your partner is not there anymore.

Distance has always been common in my relationship with Ben, as he lives in Switzerland when it is not term time. We experienced the trial of distance very early on but through good communication, we have never experienced an issue. But, of course, the prospect of studying abroad was still worrying. Since Ben is a language student, he has another year of his course and will be spending this year in France whilst I will complete my semester abroad in December and my degree in spring.

As he arrives in Norway this week to visit, these are the things I have learned so far on how to sustain a happy long-distance relationship when you study abroad.

It is not the end of the world

The idea of having an extended period of time away from each other may seem like the end of the world when in actuality, you are feeling the anxiety that this is a test on the relationship that will make or break it.

This anxiety is completely natural. You can love and trust someone unconditionally but this is an adventure that does not have a concrete layout; it is unknown what is going to happen and it is okay to feel this unease.

Before either of us left, I definitely felt that anxiety and worry. That worry will not necessarily go away but good communication of these feelings will help significantly. In doing this, I learned that Ben felt the same. Through this, it has helped me to approach this anxiety more positively, in that whilst this distance is painful, it is a good way of preparation to enter life after university as I plan to go straight into work.

Ultimately, studying abroad is not the end of the world— be it for a semester or a year. Things can work out or things will not, it is an ambiguity you have to deal with but it can be dealt with positively through communication.

The teething period of being a fresher again

Studying abroad is like being a fresher all over again. You go out, you meet people, and you make the friends who will help shape your experience. In my situation, I did this a month before Ben moved so by the time he began this experience, I had already settled down into a routine so adjusting to this was difficult.

Being apart makes the heart grow fonder, and clingier. When you have spent a lot of time experiencing life together, it is hard to then be faced with a situation where this is not possible. In my situation, I did this a month before Ben moved so by the time he began this experience, I had already settled down into a routine so adjusting to this was difficult. I found difficult since the buzz of going wild at the club were starting wear off and as I have mentioned before on this blog, clubbing in Norway is not quite the financially easy night it is in Cardiff!

I called this period the ‘teething phase’ as we both were adjusting to this new chapter in our lives. I call it this because as you adjust to the new chapter, there will be bickering and minor arguments. Communication is key here; it is important to talk through and resolve issues, no matter how small, in a situation like this. Ben and I both agreed on this one that Skyping is the best way to communicate.

Set up a Skype date night

Communication is a given. In fact, I am quickly realising that communication is underlying all of the things I point out in this post but setting up an evening where you and your partner can have a virtual date is something I have learned can be really fulfilling.

I genuinely hated Skype but now it is the best form of communication that I have with Ben, my family and my friends. Each week, we figure out a night where we both do not have previous engagements and we cook a meal (or get a takeaway) to have together. Thanks to Skype’s ability to share a screen and sound, we can also watch a film together.

It sounds simple but it is cathartic after a hectic week and a way to relax into activities you used to do together.

Visit when it is possible

In the spirit of love, it is natural that you want to visit your partner whenever you can and vise versa. But living in a high cost country will change that perspective. Birthdays, anniversaries and key moments will be missed and that is a hard part of this.

Ben and I ultimately agreed that, since I was only here for a semester, he would come to visit me. But that does not mean it was cheap. It is easy to forget that, whilst he and I are in European countries, they are on the opposite ends of Europe which means travelling to one another is not as accessible as we would like. It will be financially easier when I am back in Cardiff, as cost of living is far cheaper.

It is hard to make that sacrifice but it was necessary. It means that it has been nearly four months since I last saw him and yes, missing him is hard which is why things such as Skype dates are vital.

Share your experience through photos

When you study abroad, distance happens in different ways and one of those ways is that feeling of being so busy that you can sometimes feel like you are just this text box. This feeling is not just specific to your partner, it is quite a general feeling with family and friends.

I have learned that sharing my day through photos is a really good way to share my experience with Ben. Life in Norway can be so hectic that I do not have the time to have extensive conversations and so, photos work as a very good substitute. Be it a selfie, essays, food, or a cat I have inevitably spotted and picked up — it is such a great form of communication.

While time apart is difficult, the time spent together becomes all the more special.