Internationals in relationships

Love, long distance

You’re off to study and build a new life abroad, while your partner stays behind. How do you keep things going when you’re in a long-distance relationship? Three students talk about their experiences. ‘I’ll cry and hyperventilate at the bus stop, not wanting to leave him.’
26 June om 14:44 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 26 June 2023
om 15:58 uur.
June 26 at 14:44 PM.
Last modified on June 26, 2023
at 15:58 PM.
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Door Silke Huizenga

26 June om 14:44 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 26 June 2023
om 15:58 uur.
Avatar photo

By Silke Huizenga

June 26 at 14:44 PM.
Last modified on June 26, 2023
at 15:58 PM.
Avatar photo

Silke Huizenga

Paula Perea (21)

Studies global responsibility and leadership

In a relationship with Roger, who lives in Spain

No, Paula would not recommend a long-distance relationship to anyone. ‘We humans are not made to love in this way.’

Yet she has been doing it for almost two years. While she has been living in the Netherlands, her boyfriend Roger Puig lived in Spain and Iceland. The two were together for about a year when Paula moved from Barcelona to Leeuwarden.

‘I was expecting to have these movie-like student years, meeting a lot of different people and going out often. Sometimes I was sitting in my room, on the phone with my boyfriend, and I would think: shouldn’t I be out making new friends, since I’m all alone in a new country?’

Not codependent

Despite her reservations, they are making their relationship work. Paula thinks one of the reasons for this is that being apart is all they know. When they first got together, Roger lived over an hour from Barcelona, so they had already learned to communicate online and not be too codependent. 

It goes wrong when communicating becomes another task you have to do

A few months after they met, Covid restrictions meant they were officially unable to see each other at all. ‘You could only leave your municipality if you had a valid reason, like work or an appointment. So we faked notes saying we had to work in each other’s cities to be able to see each other once a week.’

Now, they are great at communicating, Paula says. ‘We are more or less constantly in conversation, and we can easily talk on the phone for hours. I think long distance goes wrong when communicating becomes another task you have to do.’

Open relationship

The couple have been in an open relationship since the start, as Paula does not want to ‘own’ her boyfriend: them being together should be a conscious decision that they make every time, she says. 

‘Who says relationships are closed by default? If you can have so many different forms of friendships, like work friends, friends you see every day or friends you have not seen for years, why could you not shape romantic relationships in different forms as well?’

In her social circle in Barcelona, it is normal for young people to be in open relationships. ‘Everyone understands you still want to explore a lot when you are in your twenties, and you are still getting to know yourself better.’ 


She fights against the stereotype about open relationships. ‘There are as many shit open relationships as there are shit closed relationships. The things that are important in open relationships, such as communication, are things I would also recommend for all closed relationships.’

While people may think it is a nice solution to the challenges of a long-distance relationship, for Paula, being open does not have much to do with that. ‘Physical attention can sometimes make it a little bit easier to be far apart, but I never seek to replace Roger.’

Jonna (22)

Studies global responsibility and leadership

In a relationship with Rasmus, who lives in Finland

Jonna never expected to be in a long-distance relationship. ‘It was supposed to be a summer love, but it kind of escalated.’ She met her boyfriend Rasmus two years ago in Jyväskylä, Finland, the summer before she moved to the Netherlands to study. He still lives there.

‘I used to think it was crazy to have a long-distance relationship; I didn’t understand why anyone would do that. I thought people that made it work were the stuff of fantasy: you hear stories and it seems like a fairytale, impossible for normal people.’

But now Jonna is living the ‘fairytale’ herself, except that it is not a fairytale at all. ‘It definitely wasn’t easy at first, as it was also a fresh relationship at that point. I didn’t know if we were made for that.’ 


It gets especially difficult after the two-month mark, the couple found. ‘So much can happen in that time and when you haven’t seen each other, you haven’t really shared that.’

The moment you see each other again is the most exciting feeling ever

She sees the benefits too, though. ‘I can fully enjoy my daily life in terms of hobbies or seeing friends, and I think it makes you tough in a way. And the moment you see each other again is the most exciting feeling ever, nothing compares to that.’

When people in a long-distance relationship break up, it’s may well be because they ‘do not have themselves fully figured out’, she thinks. Even though this is her first relationship, Jonna had a relatively clear idea of who she was, including her needs and boundaries. ‘So we were able to grow together and had less need to grow individually.’

Back to Finland

As students, the stereotype would have it, people live it up and make out with strangers, rather than tying themselves down in a committed relationship, especially a long-distance one. But Jonna doesn’t miss it much, she says. ‘If I were to kiss someone else, I would just miss Rasmus.’

She has one more year to go before she graduates with her bachelor’s degree, after which she will go back to Finland for her master. Partially because of Rasmus, ‘because you do have to be willing to compromise and be happy about it’. But he is not the only reason she’s returning. ‘I think I’ll be done with living in the Netherlands after my years here.’ 

The idea of them living in the same country again can make her nervous. ‘But I’m convinced life will be a lot better when we can regularly see each other again.’

Marie (24)

Studies psychology

In a relationship with Tilman, who lives in Germany

If she’s ever wondering where her boyfriend is at a certain point of the day, Marie can just check his live location, and the other way around. ‘We can always see that.’ Besides that, she is in contact with Tilman almost constantly. ‘We’re on the phone five or six times a day.’ 

After a year of being together, Marie moved away from Hamburg to study in Groningen. They never actively decided to be in a long-distance relationship, nor discussed it, she says: it just happened. ‘Breaking up was never an option. We had a very slow build-up going into our relationship; he thought I was intimidating at first. But pretty soon after we got together, I knew: this is my person.’ 

She and Tilman are blessed to be very similar and aligned both in their current plans as well as their ideas for the future, she feels. ‘If you know your future plans, you know what you are working and growing towards.’


Because especially in a long-distance relationship, she emphasises, ‘it’s so important to grow in the same direction as your partner’. You mature really fast in your student years, with many people living on their own for the first time, she says, ‘and if you grow in separate directions, you grow apart very quickly’. 

I grew a lot by being here, but always with him

Marie never felt the need to go looking for romance or something physical in Groningen, because she always felt supported by Tilman. ‘When I got to Groningen, I was like a little plant. I grew a lot by being here, but always with him. I was the plant, and he was my sun and my water, allowing me to grow.’ 

His support allowed her to prioritise her mental health and helped her through tough times, she says, even from a distance. 

Tough conversations

It wasn’t always easy, though. ‘In the beginning of the relationship, we had to have some tough conversations, but I was afraid that if I brought things up, he would leave me.’ 

Now, exactly because their bond is so strong, it becomes harder each time to say goodbye. ‘I’ll cry and hyperventilate at the bus stop, not wanting to leave him. I did not expect it, but each month we get closer, and it gets harder to leave again. He is an omnipresent thought in my mind, and I miss him constantly.’

Marie does it all with the clear goal of being together in the same place again after their studies. Is there anything that she wishes she would have known before getting into a long-distance relationship? ‘Just how expensive bus tickets are. It’s crazy.’