Year Abroad: Relationships & Friendships on Exchange

I would say that one of the biggest worries about going abroad is that of our relationships. Even coming back with only one year to go it is a small weight on our shoulders. I refer to the friendships we have had for a long time, those made at university and any relationship we are possibly in.

It is scary to have to leave all that behind to go off to an unknown place where we won’t know who we’ll meet, what will happen and what our lives will look like in six months or a years time. For some, who have been together for ages or are more accustomed to long distance anyway seem to have a higher chance of staying together but is that true? I think it’s safe to say many young people ‘google’ “will my relationship survive the move to uni?” “Is long distance possible?” as if their questions will be directly answered with the top result being: “yes [insert name], your relationship will (or not) survive and you’ll be very happy together!” 

And despite our small ounce of hope, we know that we will never know the answer until we’ve lived it. As a saying goes: “life can only be understood backwards, but it is meant to be lived forwards.”

The first hurdle all of our relationships have to leap over is the move to university. For me, most of my friendships have survived and I’m still very much in touch with a few who I’d now say are friends for life (unless they meet a replacement much cooler than I in the near future…. Kidding). My relationship also survived. We had only been together a year but we gave it a go and succeeded. It was long distance (UK version) – him in London and I in Nottingham – but taking turns to see each other almost every other weekend worked magic and we were happy. We communicated a lot every day on WhatsApp which kept us as close as ever.

So there’s advice #1: forget the distance and just tell them everything you would as if you were both back home; whether you do it on messaging or during your phone calls doesn’t matter. Social media makes it *so* easy these days (compared to the past anyway).

My advice #2 is to make the effort to see them. If it is possible, set a rough date or arrange a time where either they can come out to see you or you go back to see them. If you’re really lucky then do both! For us UK lot, this is a lot easier if our exchange program is based in Europe… Outside that, it does get a lot trickier. 

Advice #3: although it sucks that you can’t be with them all the time, enjoy the fact that you have someone that you will see (eventually) and have to talk to whenever and wherever you are.

I think the foundation that holds up the relationship is how you feel about one another. No doubt everyone knows that. You gotta love ’em for it to work. 

This is where it changed for me. I was one of those googling about relationships abroad, desperately trying to find a site or post that would explain everything to me. I wanted someone to tell me exactly what to do, why I feel what I feel so I didn’t feel so alone about it. I started the year of 2014 utterly fearful that my relationship wouldn’t survive… Little did I know that my heart had a different plan to what I had anticipated. I had said that I wanted to fight for our relationship no matter what. However, it all built up towards the end of the year and led to me choosing to do the exact opposite: to end it. I am certain that I was in love with him during the three years were together but it turns out we aren’t meant to be. I rationalised it and thought over it a million times, questioned my heart, tried my best in hoping that I was just having a weak spell because I was not home but, sadly, no.

But sometimes it’s even scarier to feel numb, to feel stuck, to feel the desire slipping away.

It’s easy to explain why you adore someone, or why someone’s good for you. It’s harder to describe why those old reasons aren’t enough anymore. It’s hard to explain that to your friends, and it’s often impossible to explain to your partner. Sometimes, it’s hardest to explain to yourself because you don’t want to be the person who admits that it’s over first.


With this, I finally admitted that I had fallen out of love. My gut instinct knew that and my head had to accept it. This wasn’t necessarily by fault of him nor I but a culmination of many things. My year abroad has definitely changed me, what I want to life and how I feel about things. And above all, I felt the need to do the cliché thing and “find myself”. Despite how much it hurt to say goodbye to the lifestyle that I had when I feel to Canada to start 2015 with my family, I knew what I did was right. This isn’t written to say that long distance relationships are doomed to fail. There are so many that have survived across the world that we don’t know about. It is easy to ask google about it all and just find forums where one in eight people have a surviving relationship. Thus conclude that the odds are not in many people’s favour.

I have two friends now who have decided to have a long distance relationship having only met and known each other in exchange for five months. One lives in America and the other in South Korea yet they make it work. It is adorable. I think it’s fantastic that they are together because relationships on the exchange are so different. Normally the quote goes, “what happens on exchange stays on exchange” but in my friend’s case, it has kept going! 💖

Basically. Expect the unexpected. Keep in touch. And milk the entire experience for what it is worth!