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Dating While Studying Abroad—Maximize Fun, Minimize Heartbreak

by - Published May 31

Study abroad is a type of travel that brings a sense of adventure out of even the most travel-timid. It allows for freedom and exploration in a completely new, unfamiliar place, but without feeling as though you’re completely on your own. For many of us, study abroad is our first step out of our comfort zones and into the world of travel. Sounds just a tad exciting, right?

Young woman with lacey dress and hair blowing in wind kisses her boyfriend

WE LOVE LOVE.

However, sometimes detracting from that excitement is anxiety over one of life’s more difficult situations: dating while studying abroad. For those of us who are attached to a partner, fears and anxieties over studying abroad can feel as though they’re heightened tenfold, since there’s a whole other person to consider.

To say the absolute least, dating while studying abroad can be more than a little tricky.

Study abroad long distance relationship FAQs

There’s a lot of scenarios to address when studying abroad while attached: Studying abroad with a boyfriend at home, dating long distance, managing relationships while studying abroad, a girlfriend or boyfriend studying abroad while you’re “left behind”...Well, we’re to address them all. These are your hunka hunka burning love questions, answered.

Should you break up before study abroad? 💔💔💔

Listen. We don’t know ya boo, you know ya boo. But we will say this: You will be busy, which can make studying abroad while in a relationship tough.There won’t be a ton of downtime to be on Skype blowing kisses or writing long, heartfelt letters that will be dramatically delivered to your S.O. via a dove pecking at their bedroom window. And that’s not just because you’ll be studying and working hard on learning a new language or writing term papers; once you’re past your initial culture shock and homesickness (don’t kid yourself, it happens to the best of us), you will be ready to ABSORB. IT. ALL.

Do you know how many people you’re going to meet, whether they be fellow peers in your study abroad program, cool locals who hang out at the plaza, backpackers in town for pub crawls, or even that cute barista at the cafe around the corner? Do you know how many trips and excursions you’ll be taking around your study abroad country, or even the continent? Study abroad, whether it be your very first time or your 10th, brings out the adventurer in everyone, and you’ll be ready to do that whole explore, dream, discover thing that people always talk .

We can’t tell you that you should break up before study abroad. All we can tell you is that you should do what feels right depending on the stage and strength of your relationship—studying abroad while in a relationship only succeeds when you have a solid foundation and GREAT communication skills. We just want you to be realistic, set healthy expectations, and take full advantage of a potentially once-in-a-lifetime experience without being in danger of letting someone detract from it.

By the way, don’t bring bad behavior along with you. If you know yourself and know you have a wandering eye, do what’s best for all involved and call it off before you leave. Your spontaneous fling with the Italian lifeguard is not cute if you have someone back home waiting by their phone because you said you would call. Same goes for those of you staying behind: if you have a boyfriend or girlfriend studying abroad, cheating should not be at the top of your priorities. If it is, break up, and then maybe evaluate why you’re sort of a jerky loser?

hand heart around an orange sunset 

This is how traveling and burritos make me feel… and my significant other too I guess.

Is dating long distance all it’s cracked up to be?

Sorry to be predictable and a little blunt, but dating while studying abroad long distance isn’t for everyone. Most of the time it’s not even for those who think they can handle it. Long distance relationships are a lot of work—a lot of work on top of the work you will already have to do for school. Of course, the success of dating long distance has a lot to do with the levels of commitment and maturity of those involved. Are you married? We’re guessing you’ll make it through. Been with your boo for less than three months? Well...it might be time to sit down and ask, “Where is this going?”

On the bright side, technology is making long distance relationships easier than they have ever been. You’ve got Skype, Facebook, Whatsapp, and dozens of other apps at your disposal to help you stay connected with your partner. Maybe it’ll be much easier than people let on! Keep the faith.

My boyfriend/girlfriend wants to study abroad! Yikes! How can I support them?

Before they go

Be involved! Don’t be the lame “my girlfriend wants to study abroad 😡” bro. Help your partner go shopping for the study abroad essentials, research cool things that they can do while abroad, show genuine interest in what they’re obviously pretty passionate . You might be a little nervous them leaving, and that’s totally okay—just don’t let your fears (and insecurities, possibly) manifest in unhealthy ways. Passive aggression is wildly unhelpful, so if you have genuine concerns your S.O. leaving for whatever reason, voice them sooner rather than later. Saying “please don’t go” right before they go through TSA will not go over well.

While they’re abroad

Give your partner some space while they’re abroad. Feelings of jealousy and fear are normal, especially if you’re a couple who usually spends every single day together. It’s okay to reach out and check in every once in a while, and to show interest in what he or she has been up to, but don’t be blowin’ up their phone—international data is expensive!!! Studying abroad is demanding studies-wise, and also a unique experience that not everyone gets to have. Let your boyfriend or girlfriend enjoy themselves. Our best advice is to find a hobby while your S.O. is unavailable, so that you can stay busy rather than stew in your thoughts. Remind yourself to be as selfless and supportive as possible.

When they return

Yes, you should absolutely make a flashy sign and get a group together at the Arrivals gate to welcome your partner back into the country, and if it’s true love, have their go-to Chipotle order in tow. After being grilled by Homeland Security, they’ll be relieved to see loved ones after such a long time. Then, let them shower off the 12-hour layover at LAX, and follow them into the battle against jet lag.

Another good idea is to keep an eye out for signs of reverse culture shock, especially if your S.O. has been gone for a full semester or longer. If they seem withdrawn or moody, don’t jump to conclusions or take it personally—it’s just possible that your partner is really, really not feeling being back home after such an epic time away. Be the supportive partner that you always have been, and they will thank you for it later.

Gif, Doug from up I hid under your porch because I love you

Before dating abroad, make sure you understand dating culture abroad.

I’m leaving my partner to study abroad. How can I support them?

Before you leave

Even though you have a million-and-one things on your pre-departure to-do list, it will be important to make time for your partner, especially if you’re in the relationship for the long haul. Being apart for such an extended period of time could be borderline traumatic for some, so set aside time to reassure your S.O. that there’s nothing to worry , if that’s what they need. On the other hand, it might be helpful to spend less time together as your departure approaches, so that it’s easier to be apart when it’s time to leave. It just comes down to how you and your partner operate!

While you’re abroad

Check in with your partner every once in a while. It will be incredibly easy to get swept up in the adventure of studying abroad and forget that there are people back home who want to know everything that’s going on and that you’re still alive. It’s not necessary to be on Skype every single night, and to be honest, getting into that habit could be detrimental to both your relationship and your study abroad experience. Keep the lines of communication open always, but set healthy boundaries.

When you return

There’s a chance you might need some space to decompress and re-adjust to life at home, so while your partner will surely be ready to shower you with love and affection, be upfront if you’re feeling like you still need a little space. Honesty is always key. And don’t forget a nice, thoughtful souvenir, for crying out loud. 😉

Two women kissing in a square with string lights

Tinder with care ❤. 

Should I be worried my boyfriend/girlfriend studying abroad and cheating?

Ah, young grasshopper, your answer to this question can be found simply by asking yourself why you’re asking this question in the first place.

Listen, you’re not a crazy, unreasonable person because you’re afraid your partner will cheat on you while they’re abroad. They’re going to be somewhere you can’t be, with people you probably have never met. You just have to figure out if your fears are embedded in logic or insecurity. Are you fearful that your partner is going to cheat because you have reason to believe that they will? In that case, kick that sucker to the curb! In all likelihood, you’re just feeling insecure because of an unfamiliar situation that you and your partner haven’t needed to confront yet. Communicate your fears, and be honest. 

Is studying abroad with a boyfriend or girlfriend a good idea?

Studying abroad with a partner is only a good idea if you both have goals and intentions for studying abroad. Do not tag along with your partner, or let your S.O. come along with you, if it’s just because you simply can’t bare to be without each other, or because you want to keep an eye on each other. That is a RED FLAG ALERT. Seriously. That is just unhealthy behavior, and we are not sorry to tell you that. The good news is that if you’re doing it for the right reasons, study abroad relationship stories are cute AF.

Is it cool to date locals while studying abroad? 

Are you a single, hot, ready-to-mingle mamacita? A suave, unattached, lookin-for-love broski? Then of course it’s cool to date locals while studying abroad! We say throw caution to the wind, and go meet some new people. Falling in love while studying abroad ain’t so hard, and you might even return home ready to write the book on study abroad romance stories.

(*Mom Mode activate*) That being said, don’t get so caught up in dating while studying abroad that you lose sight of why you’re studying abroad in the first place! (*Mom Mode deactivate*). 

But, you know what they say...never fall in love at the Jersey Shore.

Pro tip: Tinder with caution.

By the way, Tinder isn’t necessarily your friend while you’re abroad—perhaps especially for women. You might be one of those people who is completely at ease with the app at home, and that’s totally cool. Don’t let that comfort lull you into a false sense of security, because no matter where you go, there’s weirdos waiting to take advantage of naiveté. We’re not into fear mongering, but it’s important to remember that in a city or country that you’re completely unfamiliar with, there’s an even greater chance of situations going awry. Do yourself a favor and practice every form of safety, and pack your common sense.

Ah, shoot. Still had Mom Mode engaged.

[You May Be Ready For Love Abroad, But Download This Checklist to Make Sure You Are Ready to GO Abroad, too!]

Donna Meagle, Parks & Rec, I have several men in rotation

But be safe tho.

LGBTIQ + dating abroad

Unfortunately, there are certain study abroad destinations where being “out” isn’t in the best interest of your safety. On the bright side, you’ll mostly be able to pick up on the vibe while you’re there—find gay friendly neighborhoods, areas, bars, etc.—just feel it out as you go. 

For better or worse, we recommend keeping same-sex relationships while studying abroad, whether with locals or other travelers, under wraps if there’s any possibility it will jeopardize your safety within the foreign culture.

[Get More Lesbian + Gay Travel Advice]

Love Doctor—OUT. ✌️✌🏻✌🏼✌🏽✌🏾✌🏿

We’re hoping that you now feel a little bit better equipped to both take on dating long distance and enjoy your study abroad experience (or support your partner as they study abroad). There’s nothing to fear, homie, except maybe roaming charges. YIKES.

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