One fear I had about moving to Scotland for four months was that it would be too far away from Australia.
You see, my girlfriend Lindsey is also studying abroad, but on the opposite side of the world at the University of Sydney. Seriously, look at the map!
Lindsey and I have been together for just under a year and a half, although it’s felt like an eternity. We’ve been blessed to have a positive, loving relationship, and grew very close over the spring semester. We’ve both been fortunate to have both had internships over the summers and so we’ve had a bit of experience doing distance before. However, we have never been separated by such a large time difference (Sydney is eleven hours ahead of Edinburgh)!
Here are a few personal tips on how to manage a long-distance relationship through a study abroad experience:
1. Communication is key!
Relationships are a team sport, and teams only work when everyone is communicating effectively.
My number one piece of advice is to ALWAYS be willing and open to communicate with your partner. This is always important, but it’s especially important for long-distance. Good communication helps all aspects of a relationship: it helps soften the low points and makes the highs all the better! Long distance IS hard, and it’s important to keep the conversation going! If you ever question your relationship or feel lonely, just remember that your partner cares about you. They (ideally) won’t respond to your doubts with anger but instead with concern, because they should care about your feelings. Utilize Facetime, Google Duo, Whatsapp video calls, or whatever video chat service you prefer (Skype anyone?). Talking “face-to-face” in real time is amazing!
2. Discuss your expectations.
I think it’s critical to have a conversation BEFORE you leave about your expectations for what the relationship will look like. It’ll be different for everyone, but having the conversation and being on the same page is essential. (For Lindsey and I, this means at least a few texts every day with little updates on our lives, and then a longer Facetime call at least every two to three days. We also send each other pictures of weekend adventures!) Depending on who you are and what your relationship looks like, you might have a regular daily phone call or more flexible “whenever you’re free” chats. The key is that the conversation happens TOGETHER, and both parties are in agreement and with concrete expectations in mind. This way, any potential disappointments or hurt feelings are avoided and you don’t end up having the same discussion in a more dramatic fashion a month into your studies.
3. Remind your partner you’re thinking about them.
It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of a new culture: new sights, new foods, new ways of speaking, new languages, and so much more! Taking the time to send your partner a quick snap or text if something reminds you of them will make their day. Even a quick “Thinking of you, I hope you’re having a great day!” does wonders. This is one way you can feel close to your partner even if you’re halfway across the world. Lindsey and I really like to each send “good morning” and “good night” texts. It gets fun when you’re almost half a day apart!
4. Don’t force it!
All these tips are ways you can be fairly active in maintaining your relationship, but sometimes you need to relax and give each other space to breathe and grow. Moving anywhere is stressful, but moving to a new country is particularly stressful. Navigating different grocery stores with new foods (most of the world outside the US doesn’t refrigerate eggs, so they’re usually found by the bread instead of the milk!), using a new currency, and trying to find your place among a typically very different social environment takes a lot of time and energy. If you’re exhausted at the end of the day, don’t be afraid to let your partner know and catch up another time. “Relationships thrive under carefree timelessness. ” (taken from Matthew Kelly’s The Rhythm of Life ) If you’re going to be falling asleep or rushing to get to class then just say so and leave it for another time! Have faith in your relationship! There’s no rule saying you have to talk every day or else everything is going to fall apart.
5. All relationships look different. Just keep your heart at peace.
Lastly, don’t be afraid of how others will judge your relationship or think you need to fit into some perfect mold or framework. Take this advice piecemeal: if it works for you then great! If it doesn’t then ignore it and do your own thing! However, one thing that I think applies across all relationships is keeping your heart at peace. (I recently read an incredible book on this topic from the Arbinger Institute called The Anatomy of Peace ). In short, this means not holding malice or negative emotions toward your partner, but instead letting those emotions go and focusing on the positives. Your focus should be on helping things go RIGHT, rather than trying to fix the things that are going WRONG. Having the grace to let things go and still being able to love fully is a really valuable for long-distance relationships, not to mention a beautiful skill for life in general.
To finish, I’d like to say that while studying abroad is a big challenge for any relationship, it can also be a fantastic opportunity to develop independently and grow closer together. I think ultimately my relationship will be stronger because of the time spent so far apart. One thing Lindsey and I always say is that if it weren’t for the valleys, you’d never be able to appreciate the mountains!
Also here are some bonus pictures from a trip through the Scottish Highlands to the Isle of Skye!
This post was contributed by Joel Swiatek, a 2018 Global Ambassador. Joel is a Computer Science major, studying at the University of Edinburgh.
Don’t get left behind. Read more about Joel’s time in Edinburgh>>