Going on exchange can lead to many great opportunities, like traveling to your dream destinations, making heaps of new friends, learning a thing or two about different cultures and, adorably, finding love. These AUT students share their personal stories about finding, losing and rekindling love while on exchange.
My American Boy
I went on exchange to State University of New York at Oswego in 2014. While I was there it was my birthday. Having jokingly texted a friend to bring the hot guy she lived with as a present, I was sure he wasn’t going to turn up. To my surprise, he was at the door of my teeny room where we sat on the floor next to my bed and used my drink bottles as cups. He was so cute. He was so kind, not only to me but everyone around us. He loved cats, and was the only American who thought the ‘blow on the pie’ video was funny. I thought he was perfect.
Very romantically, he had an astronomy class that had them star-gazing at 4am. Waking up, I was treated to rambling messages of how he was watching the stars and all he could think of was me.
The ‘I love yous’ were broken out early. I stayed an extra month in the US and spent $500 rebooking tickets. I met his extended family and lived with him rent-free.
But when I came back home, we realised not knowing when the next time we’ll see each other was extremely discouraging. We broke up but I wanted him to keep talking to me like he was still infatuated, because I was. He sent his tears in paragraphs over nights, but wanted to be friends. We started fighting, and instead of the girl who he once thought hung the stars, I became the b-word who couldn’t move on. The boy who swept me off my feet became the little d-word who called me manipulative.
I was obsessed with the ‘what-ifs’: what if I had just stayed one more semester. What if I worked my ass off to move there permanently, and have the airport proposal he had planned? What if I was prepared to give up my life in NZ?
But I wasn’t. And once a boy reveals his proposal dreams about you because he doesn’t need them anymore, I should’ve known it was over. I heard our song in concert the other week and I had forgotten the words. I just hope he remembers what to do with a pie that’s been in a warming shelf and is thermonuclear.
It was 151 days. Or it was close to 151 days, give or take a bit considering date lines and that magic way air travel makes you into something of a time traveller. 151 days without hugs from Dan. And bugger me, it felt a lot longer; I thought it would kill me.
The day I found out I was offered the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study in Finland for four months, the first person I called was my boyfriend, Dan. In tears of course. “I want to go but I don’t want to go because it’s so far away for so long!” But amidst the tears were his encouraging words. “You have to do this, you’ll regret it if you don’t, and I’ll be here waiting.”
And so it was decided. I would go, and he would support me. We spent the months leading up to D-Day not really talking about it much. My feelings were a mixture of anxiety over leaving and excitement over setting off on my first real adventure.
The actual practicalities of a long distance relationship were interesting things to navigate. Time difference and study schedules meant Dan and I would have ‘breakfast/dinner dates’. He’d sit on the Auckland end of Skype, bleary-eyed with a coffee and a bowl of oatmeal and I’d sit in Helsinki with spag bol and wine. We’d write letters (well, mostly I’d write letters), Skype, and WhatsApp – which was an absolute relationship saver.
But I won’t say that it was easy. I would get all misty eyed when I saw cute young Finnish couples getting cosy in the cold and my attitude would turn icy. “If I can’t have my man, why do you get to be all snuggly with yours?!” And Dan was in his third year of his Paramedicine Degree, so his free time was split between talking to me and trying to study. I remember watching his graduation on the train back from Rovaniemi in the Arctic Circle, at about 2am, in tears that I couldn’t be there.
Long nights turned into ‘one day closer to going home’ and I was constantly a mix of happiness to go home and sadness that my exchange was coming to an end.
And then, all of a sudden, like it was no time at all, I was home. And then, 720 days, or close to, after I got home, we got married, so the whole long distance thing didn’t kill us after all.
Rekindling ye old Flame
The best piece of advice I could ever give is to go on exchange with no regrets. As selfish as this sounds, I wasn’t going to let the love of my life in New Zealand stop me from going on an exchange nor travelling or having the time of my life, so he came along with me! After many upsetting arguments, we came to a mutual decision that he would meet me half way through my exchange. I was always apprehensive, as he had never desired to travel or leave New Zealand to live somewhere else. But in the end, he was what made my experience on the exchange so special.
Travelling with someone you love is such an amazing, indescribable experience. You get to know each other on such a different level and experience so many things and situations that would never occur anywhere else.
At first, getting on the plane without him was really hard; there were many tears from both of us. A few days after I arrived in the UK and after video chatting constantly together, he booked his flights a month earlier so we could be together.
The day I met him at the airport, I was the happiest girl alive. I was worried that I wouldn’t make any friends on exchange and that I would isolate myself because I had him there, yet this wasn’t the case. If you
make the effort to put yourself out there, you’ll make a heap of friends from all parts of the world, just like I did!
Throughout the few months, we did face challenges and our relationship was different to how it was in New Zealand, yet it’s what has shaped us into who we are today. After our first date on Tinder three years ago now, I couldn’t have predicted that we would have travelled the world and be planning many trips together! Our love has grown so much stronger and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in crime. So don’t let a relationship stop you from doing an exchange: there’s plenty of ways to compromise. And hey, you get the best of both worlds by studying overseas and travelling whilst having your partner there with you!
Interested in going on an exchange at some point? Get in touch with AUT’s Exchange Coordinator, Shivani, at: firstname.lastname@example.org.