Your first long-term relationship can have as big an impact (perhaps even bigger) on your life as studying abroad, the author says.
Like thousands of college students out there, I started packing my metaphorical suitcases for my semester abroad years ago.
I’d been told time and again, studying abroad would be “life-changing.” That I’d gain fresh perspective. That I’d meet people with radically different tastes and ideas. That I would reach a level of independence that only comes with spontaneously buying a single Eurail ticket and taking the Czech Republic by storm.
But in the maelstrom of advice from family, friends and overzealous academic advisers, no one mentioned one small thing that’s turned into one big problem. There’s no suitcase, metaphorical or otherwise, that can carry a 6-foot-3, 180-lb. college boyfriend; and for that matter, neither can I.
To clarify, I’m not usually one to lay my love life bare on the Internet. I even have my qualms with Facebook relationship statuses, though after over a year together it seems more pertinent to my biographical shortlist than “Likes GIRLS and McSweeney’s.” But this particular lovebird chose to air it out when I realized that I’m definitely not the only one dealing with the study abroad relationship conundrum.
Plenty of bloggers have taken a stab at it, and just about all of them strike the same single chord; that is, go abroad single. As one student from the University of Copenhagen wrote, “High moral ideals and romantic fantasies are often crushed by the reality of constant temptation and by the difficulties of a long-distance love affair.”
My first thought? Come on, guys. I think we can give ourselves a little more credit than that, can’t we? I’m confident that there is a phenomenal study abroad experience out there for everyone — even those of us that choose to keep our trousers on. And if your most treasured keepsake from a semester abroad is an Instagram of a spicy Spaniard with whom you didn’t share enough common language to learn about his exotic STI, then what were you doing in a relationship in the first place?
Breaking up isn’t the only option, but it might actually be the easiest one. Two of my dear friends are in the midst of trying to keep their love alive across 6,000 miles of land and sea, and it’s been difficult. It’s been hard to watch and even harder to live. But that’s what they wanted, and I’m proud of them for blocking out the admonitions of temptation and foreign fantasy.
Naturally, that won’t work for everyone. As addicted as I am to all of our modern techie luxuries, I maintain that relationships ought to stay analog. Nightly Skype dates won’t do anything to improve my experience in the United Kingdom, nor will it help my relationship grow. So I’ve resolved to take that so-called easy road, and it’s breaking my heart long before my boarding call.
Upon hearing a rant about that heartache of anticipation, a thoughtful friend brought up a rather obvious question: “If it hurts so badly to leave him, then why go at all?” I rattled off my list of reasons without even thinking: Studying abroad will be “life-changing.” I’ll gain fresh perspective. I’ll meet people with radically different tastes and ideas. I’ll reach a level of independence that only comes with spontaneously buying a single Eurail ticket and taking the Czech Republic by storm!
That felt pretty cookie-cutter, because it is pretty cookie-cutter. We expect college to be filled with monumental experiences that will stay with us long after our Best Four Years, and a semester abroad is a sure-fire way to achieve that. Upon some humble navel-gazing, though, I’ve come to realize that we might be giving study abroad too much credit. There are countless other “life-changing” events and choices in store for us, one of which is your first love.
Trite as that phrase may be, that’s what most of these college relationships are. And they can in fact be “life-changing.” And they can introduce you to a fresh perspective. And different tastes and ideas and cultures.
This doesn’t mean I’m giving up on that solo trip to the Czech Republic. Personally, I’d fear burdening my relationship with the notion that I had picked it over exploring the world. But I hope that there are students out there that are realizing that your first long-term relationship can have as big an impact (perhaps even bigger) on your life as studying abroad. No 6-foot suitcase necessary.
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