How to Keep Relationships Healthy While Away
Getting accepted into a study abroad program means winning a mini-break from your day-to-day life. You get to live in another country, explore beautiful landscapes, meet new people and then, finally, you’ll return home. What you may sometimes forget amidst all the excitement, and hustle and bustle, is that the loved ones you left behind didn’t make this trip with you.
While you explore your new country, your friends and family are still at home. They are living the life you’ve temporarily vacated. Depending on how long you are gone (and how much you rub it in) this can create some distance.
I had to deal with this reality when I studied abroad. Right after being accepted into my program to a program in Australia, I met and fell in love with my boyfriend, Michael. I kept telling myself it was dumb to get attached since I was going to be gone for four months, but, as is often the case, feelings beat logic. After realizing that this relationship was the real thing, we wanted it to withstand the 9950 miles of land and ocean that lied between us. And, (spoiler alert) we did!
At times, it was incredibly difficult to keep myself from jumping the next plane to America to reunite with Michael and everyone else I desperately missed. But dedication to my study abroad journey and being enrolled in non-refundable courses encouraged me to stay. When it was time to make the 30 hours worth of flights back to Indiana, I was able to leave with pride; I managed to maintain my relationship and was able to experience the wonder of Down Under.
Here’s a few tips of how we did it and these can also be applied to your relationships with close friends and family:
Create a consistent communication schedule
Whether it’s monthly, weekly, or, possibly, even daily, try to keep your communication consistent. Talking to your parents, friends or significant other is important. Duh. It helps keep the connection alive and vivid and reminds you that they are still a real person. As time passes you may forget someone’s idiosyncrasies. You don’t have the physical aspect of being together and this makes conversation incredibly important. While I was abroad, I talked to Michael for about an hour every single day. We worked around a 14-hour time difference; while he was getting off from work I was waking up and having breakfast. Watching his day turn to night while I was eating my daily muesli was an odd experience. It actually worked out well because we were able to speak while we both had free time.
Utilize free texting and video chatting apps
International texting and calling is expensive as hell. They are also entirely unnecessary if you understand the basics of messaging apps. There are many choices of modes of free communication. For video chatting, my personal favorites are Google Hangouts and Skype; they maintained the clearest picture and kept the audio in sync (most of the time.) As for texting, I kept my smartphone and simply turned off roaming, and put it in airplane mode except for when I connected to available Wi-Fi. Facebook messenger, Viber, and Couple were my preferred texting methods. Adelaide’s citywide free Wi-Fi made it incredibly easy to stay in touch while I was eating delicious sushi and wandering through the city gardens. Though I bought a burner phone to keep in contact with my Australian friends, I saved a ton of money by switching to airplane mode and avoiding unnecessary roaming charges.
Do things together and for each other
This is the most important aspect. If you retain anything from this article, I recommend keeping this section secured in your frontal lobe.
Watch a movie, read the same book, play phone games, share a meal over Skype – do something, do anything that gives you shared memories. I found that this was the most important piece to keeping our relationship alive. Having something to bond over is essential in maintaining any sort of relationship.
Just because you are apart, doesn’t mean that you can’t still surprise each other. While I was in Adelaide, I had a massive craving for cinnamon gum. For whatever reason, cinnamon gum isn’t a thing in Australia. They have the mint and the fruity flavors, but no cinnamon! I longed for that spicy, sweet taste for months until Michael surprised me with an enormous package of gum. I chewed four pieces at once for about a week and cut back when I started to get sores from the gum. True story. The point is, you can still surprise someone even when you’re on another continent.
Though these tips were directed toward maintaining a partnership, the principles can be applied to any sort of relationship you want to keep strong. Follow these tips and you’re transition back home, and your relationships, will be all the less challenging.
Kelsey Tharp recently graduated from Indiana University and received a B.A. in English. During her last semester at IU, she studied abroad in Adelaide, Australia and desperately wants to return some day. She has a passion for travel and encourages everyone to take the opportunity to live in another country! She has been previously published in Inside Indiana University Bloomington, IU’s Physical Plant Perspective newsletter and the Wine, Spirits and Beer Advocate blog. Outside of writing, she is an avid reader and chef.