College is the perfect environment for meeting lots of new and exciting people, and when studying abroad, much of the international student experience is built around meeting new people and often getting into relationships.
That's great, but if you end up in a relationship after meeting someone at your new college – or if there's someone you've left behind – you may have to make a decision about what happens when you're apart either for the summer or during the school year.
Many people dismiss long-distance relationships as too hard, but I've been in one for a year. While it's not much fun, it's manageable if you're prepared to put a little bit of work into it. Here are five hints for making a long-distance relationship work while you're studying overseas.
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1. Be sure a long-distance relationship is what you both want: For a long-distance relationship to work, no matter how new it is or how comfortable you are with being together, both people in the relationship have to be fully behind the long-distance idea. If one person isn't sure then leave it, or come back to it, but don't try and push it.
Long-distance is very hard work, and to be successful there should be a strong commitment on both sides. Most of the long-distance relationships I've seen have fallen apart because of this lack of commitment.
2. Set boundaries before you go: Make sure you talk openly about the structure of your relationship before the move away. Whether you want to be monogamous or take a break and see where you are when you're home again, then you both have to be 100 percent open about it.
Taking emotional confusion and putting several thousand miles between it is just not a recipe for success. You should also try to decide when the long-distance aspect of your relationship will end, or at least have a fixed date for when you will next see each other. How long will you be apart? A semester? A year? A whole degree?
Whether it's six weeks or six months, knowing when you will next be together will make the distance much easier to work through.
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3. Talk often: When you don't have the easy access or physical contact that an immediate relationship brings, talking to each other can become the most vital part of keeping your relationship going.
Thanks to free services such as Google Hangout or Skype, you don't even have to run up a bill! Skype video chat was invaluable to my boyfriend and me for regular chats – although beware the inevitable frustrations when it crashes – and when we weren't on the computer, we often sent each other cards and letters in the mail. If you don't have time for a full-blown conversation, send the occasional text message.
Talk about any and all stuff happening to you, however big, small, weird or mundane. Remember that what may seem boring or everyday to you is often interesting to your partner, who doesn't get to experience it.
The Internet is your oyster – use it. Share articles with each other, videos, memes: anything that gets the two of you chatting.
4. But don't talk too much: This can be the ultimate long-distance flaw for many couples. Often feeling so far away from your boyfriend or girlfriend makes you want to devote a lot of time to talking with them.
But if you spend too much of your day sitting in front of the laptop, you're going to start missing out on other aspects of student life. Although my relationship was largely trouble-free, the odd fights I had with my boyfriend often came as a result of my frustration over how much time I spent in front of the computer. We eventually resolved this by placing a 45-minute limit on our video calls, to ensure we didn't waste hours of the day together.
Work to make sure your relationship doesn't become so time-consuming it pulls you away from the exciting world in which you're living, and that you don't become so dependent on speaking with your partner that you start to resent that he or she is not around.
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5. Learn to be happy and functional without each other: When going long-distance, it's natural that you should need and miss each other, but you each need to have a life outside of the one you share.
The more you go out, meet people and do things alone, the more interesting stories you'll have to tell your partner when you get the chance to speak to him or her. Your relationship should be one component of the amazing experiences you're having studying abroad, not the dominant force.
Long-distance relationships are hard, but not impossible. If you're thinking about making the leap my advice is that you simply try it out. You'll learn a lot about yourself and about each other, and as long as you keep a good love-life balance, you'll never know where it might take you.
Emily Burt, from the United Kingdom, is currently studying at the University of California—Berkeley on an exchange program. She will graduate from the University of East Anglia in 2014 with a bachelor's in American literature and creative writing.