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Can Exchange Students Find Love in America?

This past Valentines’ Day, as another year of singledom loomed, I took a step back to consider why a relationship just wasn’t working for me.

The past two years have been far from stable for me. I moved away from home to a university in Liverpool, only to find out 6 months later that I would be leaving again to spend a year in College Park, Maryland.

Perhaps these relocations are the reason I have failed to enter a successful relationship (or at least I keep telling myself that that is the reason).

But maybe there is potential for romance. Just because us international students are only here for only a short amount of time it does not necessarily mean that love is off limits.

I have only been here since August 2012, but I have already seen several different ways that people handle their love affairs. It seems to me there are three types of relationships (besides the infamous ‘one night stand’) when studying abroad in the U.S.

1. “It’s just a bit of fun.”

I know several exchange students who have regularly hooked-up - with other exchange students and with Americans - with no strings attached, and it really was just a bit of fun for them all. But while this is the easiest type of relationship to fall into, it also has a lot of potential for heartbreak.

Two Europeans I know, one from the north of the continent and the other from the south, ended up in what was supposed to be a no strings attached relationship last semester. They got together, intending just to have some fun while they were in the States. But here’s where the risk comes in. After enjoying some months of this, they eventually became exclusive, even though they both knew they were just in it for the fun and it was destined not to last. As far as I know they went back to their respective countries as singletons.

Much like Sandy and Danny in the movie Grease, a bit of summer lovin’ (or in this case autumn lovin’) can be entertaining, but ultimately is only fun while it lasts. By the time the inevitable parting of the ways occurs, one or both of the participants may well have fallen for the other a little too much, which can make returning home more difficult than initially anticipated.

That’s why the ‘bit of fun’ may not be quite as fun as it first seems.

2. “I don’t want to commit to a relationship…

… but eventually I will, even though I know getting emotionally invested might not be the smartest choice in the long-term.”

In the final months of last semester, a close friend of mine experienced this for herself. A fellow exchange student, she was faced with the conundrum of how to deal with her obvious feelings for an American classmate, with her departure date looming and no definite return in sight.

After a classic romantic saga spanning months, she and her American boyfriend eventually became an official couple, despite her initial reluctance. They now seem very happy together, comfortable with the fact that they can enjoy each other’s exclusive company for the rest of the semester, but knowing that that once she goes home, life will go on for them both.

Rather than setting out for “just a bit of fun” as my European friends had done, she and her American partner decided early on that this was more serious – there was no denying this would be a relationship. But this type of relationship poses its risks too, because it will be even more devastating to split once the date of departure comes.

Time will tell how my friend’s relationship will manifest itself over the next few months. Then again, a few months is a long time in the context of young love, and perhaps it will all be over before the awkward farewell comes.

3. “I have found love.”

This third type presents the most security, but is also the hardest to find. Nevertheless, I know some couples who have been lucky enough to find love during their studies in America.

Two international friends of mine, again from opposite ends of Europe, met after both arriving at the University of Maryland on tennis scholarships three and a half years ago. They just celebrated their three year anniversary last month. They make a charming and funny couple and everyone is sure that they will be together for many more years to come.

They had a luxury not all international students have - they both knew that they would be at the same college, and indeed on the same continent, for at least four years.

However, that is not to say that exchange students who may be in the U.S. for only a semester or two, cannot find love in America.

Two and a half years ago, a fellow Englishman came to the University of Maryland on exchange for two semesters, just as I am doing now. He returned to College Park last August, where I met him as I was arriving for the first time.

He is back to complete a graduate degree here in the U.S., but the lure of love definitely sweetened the deal of his return. When he was here on his exchange, he began a relationship with an American student. They stayed together when he returned home, happily proving that long distance relationships can succeed, if both parties are willing to work at it. The relationship is in its third year, and they now live together in Maryland.

So what about the rest of us?

However easy or difficult you find commitment, studying abroad in America presents every kind of relationship opportunity. The excitement of living in the moment, the unpredictability of what might happen if you take that chance, and perhaps even deciding to step into a relationship can no doubt make the international experience more memorable – for better or for worse.

For me, the prospect of falling for somebody, and then facing the inevitability of living thousands of miles away from them once I return home, is not something I would relish. But if it happens, it happens.

As the old saying goes, “you can’t fight love!”

Editor: Abuzar Royesh