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5 Things No One Tells You about Falling in Love Abroad

I just discovered Julia’s blog last week when she left me a novel of a comment on my Breaking Up to Travel post. A girl after my own heart, not only has she traveled and lived all around the world at a young age and writing about it on her blog, Nowhere to Go but Everywhere, she has also had to go through dealing with international affairs of the heart. Bonding via email, I begged her to write me a guest post while I am in Turkey. What pinged in my inbox the next day did not disappoint. In this post, Julia explores the little-discussed side of falling in love abroad.

How many travel and expat bloggers out there have wonderfully successful international relationships that they are more than happy to share with the world? As much as I love reading those stories, from my own years spent in Spain I have learned that dating abroad is not all sunshine and fairytales, and it has been idealized online far too often. From her own experiences, Julia breaks it down for all of those starry-eyed youngsters hoping to fall in love while abroad.

Have you ever dated, had a fling or fallen in love abroad? Tell us about it! How did it end?

falling in love abroad

It seems like a dream…you move to a mysterious new land, meet a handsome stranger and fall hopelessly, passionately in love. Soon enough, you’re riding on the back of his Vespa through winding roads to watch the sunset from a spot that only locals know about thinking, is this real life??

That’s exactly what happened to me when I studied abroad in Granada, Spain last spring and, BOY, do I wish I had someone warn me that such a romance isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. I wouldn’t trade in my experience for the world, but I want to share some of the darker sides of falling in love abroad that no one talks about.

 First, some upsides to international love. I met a fantastic guy, I became fluent in Spanish from constantly conversing with my novio and his friends and family in their language. I learned colloquial terms and sayings I never would have  known and got an insiders look into lesser-known spots in the city.

Oh, and I got to fall deeply in love in one of the most romantic cities in the world…I guess that’s pretty cool too.

But, just like any relationship, there are some aspects that are extremely difficult and painful. The difficult parts are often exacerbated in a foreign land as you are introduced to new cultural practices, beliefs and values. A language barrier doesn’t help things. So, I’ve put together a list of things that either hindered my relationship directly or have happened to my friends.

This should serve as a caution to starry-eyed girls who go abroad looking for a fairy tale…like a certain 20 year old I once knew.

falling in love abroad

1.This isn’t his first time at the rodeo

If you met at a disco/bar where study abroad students tend to flock; Rico Suave came with one thing in mind. Use your head, chica. Each year, thousands of Americans and international students move to these hotspot cities looking for an adventure, and men absolutely take advantage of this.  Most women let loose, and rightly so, it’s a time for fun and few obligations. But, unfortunately for many women, this means doing things they normally wouldn’t back home. If a man picks you up in one of these situations, be wary. Oftentimes, the men that frequent these places are just looking for a fling, banking on the fact that a ton of girls are hoping to fall in love. We go in thinking it’s love, a story to tell our grandchildren, while we’re more than likely just going through a revolving door of American girls.

{If he pursues you outside of the nightlife atmosphere, doesn’t try to sleep with you immediately, and especially if he involves you in his life with his family and friends, however, he could very well be an exception}

falling in love abroad

2. You may not be in love with him

Moving away from home to a foreign land presents a multitude of new experiences that could influence your feelings during this time. When choosing where to move abroad, most women choose charming and  romanticized places whether it be Rome, Barcelona, Buenos Aires or New Zealand. With the history, natural beauty and exciting culture, it’s easy to fall in love with the place you’re in and the life you live there. Between the yummy food, flowing drinks and new adventures, your pleasure center is constantly stimulated. Mix in a relationship with all these feelings and emotions and it becomes hard to distinguish how you feel about the person versus how you feel towards life in general at this time. Would you be in love with this guy if you were back in your home town? Would you want him to meet your parents? These are things worth thinking about if you’re interested in more than a fling.

falling in love abroad

3. You’ll never 100% understand each other

This one pertains solely to relationships where there is a language barrier. You could be as fluent as a non-native can be, but it is nearly impossible to truly understand humor or complicated emotion in a language that is not your mother tongue. Things like dry humor, sarcasm, and goofy jokes are extremely difficult to accurately translate. Combine that with the difficulty of conveying exactly why you’re mad/hurt/upset in a new language, and a lot of important things get lost in translation. This makes for a lot of frustration and, more than likely, many unnecessary fights.

{Upside: with all the passion and excitement surrounding you, makin’ up ain’t haaaalf bad}

4. You’ll miss out on experiences

If you’re only living abroad for a limited amount of time, having a man in your home base can and will distract you in some way. This isn’t some feminist “sister, a man will only hold you back from becoming the woman you should be” speal. It’s a fact. If you’re in love with someone and know your time together is limited by your visa, you will want to spend as much time with him as possible. This means turning down weekend jaunts to Ibiza to stay with him and nixing girls’ nights out of shameless bar-top dancing with your friends for quiet nights with your man. Many people only get the chance to live abroad once, and though you don’t think so in the moment, turning down exciting opportunities could be something you may regret when you look back on your life.

falling in love abroad

5. There’s an expiration date on your relationship

This has been a theme in each of the previous points. You have a visa, and visas expire. This means one of two things. You have to either accept your romance as nothing more than a fling, or, you have to commit. Commit to making a bi-continental relationship work, commit to a permanent  move at some point, or commit to staying together with no plan at all. To know that you’re in love and these things have a way of working out. This is, of course, up to you.

My point is that in order to protect yourself from heartbreak and disappointment, there is a lot to consider before entering into a love affair abroad. My friends like to refer to what I had with my love as “the fairytale,” and, in many ways, it was. When I look back on my time with him in Granada, I remember the most intense feelings I’ve ever experienced in my life; passion, pain, confusion, excitement, desperation and intense disappointment. I think I could have avoided some of the darker bits had someone made me conscious of the facts I’ve listed above. So, I hope that I can help at least one person to make the most of their time abroad. To immerse yourself, to love, and to explore, but to be aware, conscious, and smart.

falling in love abroad

My two biggest pieces of advice:

Don’t go looking for love, go looking for yourself and if love finds you, then love. You may find the man of your dreams. And if it’s a fling, go for it, girl.

I don’t think anyone ever regretted a tryst with a mysterious stranger.

{Disclaimer:  I know people who have successful international relationships, so there are absolutely exceptions to this list}

Julia is a world traveler who has spent time living on the Cote d’Azure and Southern Spain. These days she calls New York City least until September, when her wanderlust will relocate her to Madrid in search of new adventures. A sociologist and linguist at heart, she is passionate about seeking out new lands and cultures. She recently started blogging at Nowhere to go but Everywhere to chronicle past, present and future travels. Be sure to follow her out on Instagram and Twitter for real-time updates!

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76 Responses to 5 Things No One Tells You about Falling in Love Abroad

  1. SD February 18, 2014 at 8:31 am #

    I feel like this could have been me writing this blog! I too met my Rico Suave in Granada, Spain. We had many more ups than downs I think largely because we talked about my inevitable return to the U.S. early on and decided to “just be friends” when I left. Needless to say, that was still hard and our friendship eventually fizzled away as the left over emotions (and my commitment to stay in the U.S. after graduating from college) and a lot of what was discussed in #2 became too much.

    Now, a couple years later and at a very different point in my life (but again, just recently back from a semester abroad), I’ve found a wonderful Brazilian guy who I love very much. Knowing that I would return to the U.S. (once again) made us talk about the future early on. We are very happy in our intercontinental relationship and know when we will be visiting each other and when one of us will buy the one way ticket ending the long-distance!

    This post has great advice and I’m all for falling in love abroad if and when it happens. Whether it turns out to be a quick fairytale fling or what I’m hoping will be my happily ever after, it’s so worth it. :)

  2. Sarah February 19, 2014 at 10:32 am #

    Well, stumbling onto this today might have been fate. I studied abroad in England this past summer and met the boy that I’m sure all others will be compared to for a very long time. We left England very confused and upset about our time being cut so short- agreeing that we’d continue to talk but not enter into a serious relationship. For the past six months we’ve talked nearly every single day and have both had a very hard time of not knowing what to really make of our situation. We talked about visiting and were planning on him coming to the states very shortly, but our plan didn’t work out the way we wished. And today, we had the conversation that it would be ok for him to start seeing someone else when the practicality of our situation is so low. Honestly, I’m heartbroken today and have cried more than over all my previous breakups combined- but I want him to be happy. Distance, especially when you’re on two separate continents, is ridiculously hard. But don’t be afraid to have that romance abroad. It was the best summer of my life and while I’m licking my wounds today and cursing the day we met, I know in the weeks to come I’ll just be glad that it happened.

  3. Wilfy @ March 10, 2014 at 8:00 pm #

    Never give up hope as one of the people you meet while travelling may actually be “the one”
    I fund my soulmate while backpacking through Oz

    It does happen!

  4. William Stone March 20, 2014 at 3:41 am #

    Even long-term, successful relationships spawned from international travel have challenges associated with them that few people realize. I spent a semester abroad studying at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia back in 1997. While there I met Tammy, a beautiful Australian who stole my heart. We only dated for two months before I had to return home. After graduating, I moved back to Perth to live with her until she graduated. We then moved back to the U.S. We will be celebrating 17 years together this May. We are married, own a house and a cat, and have two beautiful children together. But the fairy tale hasn’t been all…well, a fairy tale. The truth is, for any international relationship to work, there can be one of only two scenarios: 1) one of the individuals gives up his or her home to move countries to the other person’s home, or 2) Both parties move to a new country together. The first scenario is by far the more common one. While the sacrifice to leave one’s country behind might be completely willing, it does put great pressure on the relationship. The other party can never really measure up to that significant a sacrifice. And after many, many years, home sickness breeds resentment. The question, “why was I the one to give up my country? Why didn’t you love me enough to insist that no, it would be YOU who would sacrifice your friends, family and home to give our relationship a chance?” In my situation, I would have been willing to move countries at the start, but that doesn’t negate the feelings of resentment. That’s because the resentment isn’t based on logic but on feeling, and my wife feels home sick. Our parents are getting older and both of us realize that only one of us will get to spend these final years with them. Talk about stress on a relationship. Even in a happy relationship, as mine has been, it creates challenges and hurdles I was ill-prepared to face. I just wanted to share my perspective on a side of international romance that, even when successful and long-term, is rarely explored.

    • wonderwoman March 23, 2014 at 4:47 am #

      I am going through the exact same thing. I met this wonderful man three years ago in my country. I was living as a singe mom in the florida keys. Me and my daughter were happy and rebuilding our life from a previous relationship, but were definitely enjoyng life, and then i met an amazing man from Italy and have spent the last three years chasing each other around the world, with the plan that one of us will make the move to be togther. I made the sacrafice with my daughter who is now 10. We spent a long time to decide this one and still have second thoughts everyday. we have been here for almost three months, we have two weeks to get married. But everyday has been a complete challenge to argueing and getting along. There is a resentment for making this sacrafice. the descion i made for my daughter was to give her an oppurtunity to learn another language and have a dad that loves her, and me to spend more time home with her. This may seem so beautiful to A romantic, As much as we love each other, it is not easy, and the impending marriage in two weeks, makes both of us extremely nervous and scared, because we dont know if we can overcome our challenges. And the worst thing is coming into marriage where both people arent happy. Even after all this time invested together, we continue to be terrified of the changes and descions we are making. I hope that we realize either we can make it or realize its to much energy and stop.

      • Louise April 9, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

        What happened I am fascinated… you are brave to make that move!!!! It could be me in the future!!!!
        Good luck!!!

  5. Margaux April 8, 2014 at 9:06 am #

    I had the same experience. I was on vacation in Belgium, and I met a boy 3 weeks before I left for the US. I really fell in love with him, but I didn’t know how because of the language barrier and everything. Sometimes it would be really hard to have a conversation together, and get each other’s jokes. It’s difficult to express the way you feel or even have intelligent conversations. I spoke some french and he spoke some english, so we managed, but maybe I really did feel in love because of your statement #2. I never thought of it that way.
    And it was really sad when I left, almost like a movie. And I think that’s why it’s so easy to fall in love abroad, because everything’s like a fairytale or some kind of romantic movie. Like everything that you’ve seen in these romantic movies is finally your reality, something that almost everyone longs for.
    It really hurts to leave someone like that, because you feel as though you have finally met someone that completes your heart, and you can’t even be with them. But I assure you that someday, if you don’t find anyone else and still want to find a way back to them, you will find each other… especially now with all the social networking we have today.
    But as for the language barrier, it’s true that even after this guy, I stayed in Belgium for a year and half and did plenty of dating… it’s pretty hard to understand everything even while being able to speak almost fluent french, especially with humor. There are just certain phrases and play on words that we will never understand, no matter how well we speak another language, just like there are in english.
    But at the same time, I wouldn’t get my hopes down too low. There are still plenty of happy couples that come from different countries and cultures. But I suppose you do have to watch out for these rules…

  6. Alice Redfield May 3, 2014 at 10:07 am #

    Our move to Spain was very sudden, almost like an opportunity that landed on our lap.
    A few months later, I met this spanish man at a bank where he works and that makes me his client. From that situation alone, I don’t think we’ll ever get to the “getting to know each other” on a friendship level at least.
    I don’t know. There’s just something so captivating about him. I can sense passion and intensity in his eyes, his voice, the way he talks, walks and when I look into his eyes, I feel as if I’d melt. Things I have never seen in other men.

  7. AJ June 9, 2014 at 8:16 am #

    I just googled about falling in love abroad and read this article. I share a similar experience. I dated a guy on my exchange program in Australia, and while I thought it would just be a little fling abroad, it was in the end that I realized I might have actually fallen for him. While we had established that our relationship wouldn’t continue once I returned, I still wish I could have extended my stay. Although it was important for me to come back to finish my degree in college. We spoke once in a while but eventually it fizzled.
    The worst part of falling for someone like that is that there was no reason to end it except for visa expiration.
    Its been quite some time now, but I still wish to be with him. Somewhere deep down, I am not yet over him. But after reading the comments here, I feel like if it was meant to be, something would have happened.
    I am going again to Australia for a trip, should I meet him or would that be heartbreaking again?

  8. Richelle July 19, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

    I experienced the same issue, but from the other perspective. I dated an Australian who was studying abroad at my university. We met the weekend before classes started, and what I thought would be a fun Australian fling turned into a very serious relationship that lasted over a year. I think us dating had a positive experience on his time abroad because he was really shy in new situations, and I introduced him to all my friends, brought him to sorority functions and quite literally forced him out of his shell. I also brought Americans to the exchange student parties and encouraged all the exchange students to come to campus events I was involved in. It was a great experience for everyone involved… while we were all in DC. After a semester, he moved back to Australia and we were long distance. I visited him for a month in Australia over the summer, but it was definitely hard to be living together after not seeing each other for 6 months. That next fall I had a choice: follow my dreams and study abroad in China, or go to Australia and be with my boyfriend. I chose my dreams over my relationship and we broke up. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and I thank myself every day for being strong enough to make that choice.

    Thanks so much for posting this. I’ve been trying to get the courage together to write a long post about choosing China over love, but I’ve never written anything that personal before and it’s intimidating. I think it’s definitely necessary to write though, because so many young girls struggle with that decision and opt out of adventure.

  9. Sarah July 26, 2014 at 12:39 am #

    This is happening to me right now…. I’m in turkey, and spent about 6 weeks working at a hostel, and fell for one of the owners. Like all Turkish men, he is handsome, charming, and very smooth, and before I knew it, we’re cruising through the mountains on his Vespa, looking at all the best views, and going to the local swimming spots, etc. Then we both left the hostel together, and spent about a week camping along the coast, but then we had to go our separate ways. I’m staying with his family right now, with plans to meet him up north sometime later, but the inevitability of my leaving is constantly on my mind.

  10. Jessica August 1, 2014 at 6:10 am #

    I have a similar story but my story has been going on for about 19 years now. I met my first love in Italy at the very young age of 14 and every summer when I would return I would always spend every waking minute with him. My sister had moved to Italy in 1995 for her love so I always had an excuse to visit without parental supervision. Years and years go by, visiting about every 2 years and eventually we both move on and we both marry and have children, however, every time I return its like we go back to that place where we left off. I have been married for about 7 years now and when i returned in 2008 for a short visit I couldn’t bare to betray my husband by sleeping with my Italian love as I had been married for less than a year at that point, however, I think the emotional betrayal was far worse because we were able to connect on a completely different level which in my opinion was even more profound. I just returned from a 10 day vacation and again I feel at loss. At times I feel angry that I never decided to take the leap and move there but really don’t even know what to do anymore. Leaving my husband doesn’t feel like an option to me, but my love for this man kills me inside.

  11. Julia August 16, 2014 at 2:43 pm #

    Before arriving in France I was given much advice. A week before my departure my French tutor told me that I should meet a French boy, since I was single. Her teacher had told her this is one of the, although funny, nice ways to improve your accent and vocabulary. As much as I wanted to meet a French boy, I didn’t think I would. But as it always goes, two weeks before I left I met my French boy. Living in a smaller city in France, I able to spend much of my time with him. Besides my classes and his work we did a lot together and became incorporated in each others lives. It was tough with me not being fluent in his language, and him not in mine but that’s where part of the magic came in. The expiration date was real, I thought nothing of our relationship being more than a fling until the final few days until I departed. We’re in difference places, different stages of our life, speaking difference languages. Thanks to the others I have hope maybe someday it can work, since I do have a strong desire to work in France (long before he came around). But you never know, if not I had the best two weeks of my study abroad being taken care of by the most beautiful French boy, and even having such an experience isn’t so bad!

    Thank you for writing such a lovely article with such truth. I read this right before I left and felt all the truth in it, between the language struggles (at times) and the truth in expiration date (me heading home and him to take his month break to see his family). I hope I can read this someday and conquered the ocean between us.

  12. Elliott September 7, 2014 at 9:55 pm #

    “I’m not getting in a relationship while travelling.” – My famous last words.. LOL it happens. It just happens. Here’s my story


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