Is Your Relationship Ready for a Study Abroad Term?

A couple at an airport saying goodbye but hoping to maintain a long-distance relationship while studying abroad.

Gordon Swanson /

Maintaining a healthy relationship takes work, but doing so long distance is a whole different ball game. How do things work out when one partner leaves to study abroad and the other is stuck on campus?

A lot of times, they don’t work out at all. They flop right out of the starting gate because of jealousy, miscommunication, boredom, indifference, you name it. If you or your partner is studying abroad, the first thing to consider is whether or not you even want to put in the effort of continuing the relationship when you know things are going to be hard. And if you think you do want to keep it up, how do you anticipate the bumps in the road? What does it take to go the distance?

I found real people who were once in your shoes and asked them for their answers. As they reflected on their experiences, this is what they said:

What advice would you give to someone who is deciding whether or not to keep up their relationship while they’re abroad?

“I would say it can be worth it, but it doesn't come without a cost. It's hard to be present and take advantage of the opportunities where you are when you want to be with someone somewhere else.” – Mike P.

“It’s a lot harder to start from scratch than it is to maintain a relationship. I would advise the person to keep the relationship going as it will be a litmus test for many things. If you find your life, or theirs, is moving along just fine while they’re away, it may show you aren’t as invested in the relationship as you may have thought. If it’s pretty painful being apart, that shows you really do value the other person, and it’s something worth gritting your teeth through.” – Zach R.

Study abroad relationships don't always work out; this GIF shows a boy starting to cry.

Dawson's Creek / Giphy

Chances are, you will break up. Just bite the bullet and do it in person before you go so that you can leave on good terms. This mature conversation will leave the door open for a mature relationship when you return. If you wait to break up over the phone or via Skype, it is likely that there will be a lot more resentment, anger, and hurt feelings involved.” – McKenzie R.

“It is important to decide for yourself if you want to try to continue the relationship while you are apart, and if you both decide it is worth trying, it’s important to talk about how it’s going to be hard but how you will both promise to try.” – Sarah D.

“I dated a guy who did a study abroad program across the world from our campus. We'd had a whirlwind romance right before he left [and we decided to stay together], but I'd had long-lasting feelings for another guy, and it happened that he was staying on campus at the same time I was [while my boyfriend was away]. You can figure out the way that story ends by yourself. Suffice it to say, I wouldn't recommend that anyone volunteer for a long-distance relationship. Nine times out of ten, they end with broken hearts.” – Liz F.

Ask yourself if what your significant other wants and what you want will allow you to enjoy your time abroad. Love is about promoting each other’s growth, and study abroad is often a once in a lifetime experience. If your relationship is going to keep you stuck on Skype 75% of your semester, then it’s not worth it.” – Katelyn B.

What does it take to maintain a healthy relationship while you/your partner is studying abroad?

“Set up ways that you will keep in contact, like Skype. I found that communication can be more difficult from afar, even while using Skype, and I accepted that I might not really feel satisfied with our relationship until we were together again. Thinking about how it would be better when I got back from my trip helped when I felt frustrated. Keeping distracted with friends while you are apart helps a lot as well.” – Sarah D.

A girl says "Other people always let you down. Why don't you forget them and do something for yourself?"


Be open about what each of you needs in order to feel good in the relationship while going the distance. Stay excited about your everyday lives and share that excitement even if you’re the one at home and everything feels monotonous. Find new ways to be romantic like writing letters and sending those, “just missing you” messages. Above all, always be honest with yourself and the person you’re dating.” – Katelyn B.

“Scheduled and spontaneous contact always helps; we kept in contact twice a week usually. I would also get nostalgic from time to time and look at our old photos or check and see what she was doing on Facebook. This gave me the feeling of still being a part of her life. We also gave each other a ‘hall pass’ of NSA fun if the chance arose for either of us. We are still together six years later and will be tying the knot [soon after] this publication. The best advice I can give is to be patient of the situation and the other person. The painful moments usually come soon after you hang up the call or video chat. It’s good to have an outlet for those moments afterwards: friends, a hobby, or just exercising.” – Zach R.

So, there you have it: A split jury. For some, it wasn’t worth it. For others, the hard work is still paying off.

The thing is, every relationship is different. What works for this crowd may not work for you. When you’re facing tough decisions before your or your partner’s study abroad term, listen to yourself. When you hear other people’s advice, do you feel excited or overwhelmed by your own situation? What feels right to you?

About Gwen Elise

Gwen is an avid traveler who feels most at home in Kentucky and Argentina. Her closet is full of dark dresses, and her walls are papered in colorful maps. She likes to make puns, read, write, and translate to and from Spanish, and she misses Vassar College, her alma mater, which helped her get better at all of those things.

Leave a comment