How Studying Abroad Ended My Seven-Year Relationship

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Ok, I’ll admit– the title of this blog sounds really bad and scary (and maybe a little sad), but hear me out. Before my study abroad experience, I met my (ex) boyfriend when I was a sophomore in high school. Since meeting at 16 (I am now 22). I have grown and changed a lot– but we both went to college in the same city that our high school was in. Thus, our friends from high school remained, we worked at the same minimum-wage grocery store job, and we did not have any long-distance relationship. Our relationship was easy– and it was simultaneously convenient for both of us.

Although we grew together in the course of 7 years, our growth was unequal. As an English major undergraduate who is looking towards an Anthropology Ph.D., I’ve always known I would study abroad/attempt to become fluent in another language other than English. Although I speak Spanish, I live in the Midwest, and my access to Spanish-speaking communities is limited compared to California (where I grew up). During college, I intended to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country– but due to the Pandemic– I was unable to go. However, during the Pandemic, I grew an unexpected interest in Chinese history and literature, and eventually started to learn Mandarin in my senior year of college. My interest in Mandarin learning led me to study abroad with CET in Taiwan, and also apply for Fulbright as Taiwan ETA.

While I was making these discoveries about my interests and goals for life, my (ex) boyfriend was supportive, but did not want to follow me to Taiwan. Because we had both just graduated this past spring (he’s a graphic designer), he was able to find a full-time job in his field and was quickly hired this summer. This was exciting (as the position is hybrid, with good benefits), and it’s a job that will build his career. For me, going to Taiwan for CET’s study abroad would be the foundation of my career (as it would further my Mandarin speaking skills) and open more opportunities to prepare me for graduate school.

Because we had been together for seven years, we both agreed that spending three months abroad would be a small amount of time, and it would not impact our relationship in significant ways. We agreed to call each other occasionally (as we have a 12-hour time difference), and we set boundaries on what our lives would look like abroad.

Coming to Taiwan, I was not expecting to make deep, intense friendships with other Americans that would cause me to question my future life, or give me perspective on what my seven-year relationship lacked. During my three months away, I met other Americans who were pursuing fields similar to mine (IR, political science, linguistics, etc.) and also planned to live their lives abroad (beyond CET’s academic program). This was encouraging to me– as I lack a community of Americans learning Chinese/ applying for international programs in my home state. With my academically-minded group of American friends, we mutually helped each other apply for American fellowships, encouraged each other’s Mandarin learning, edited each other’s blog writings/applications, and traveled to new countries together. Through these new friendships, I realized that I was not receiving the same amount of love or support from my seven-year relationship, and I slowly realized we were going on different career paths that did not have compatible lifestyles.

Furthermore, I met other Americans who encouraged me to explore my gender and sexuality. I identify as a non-binary, bisexual individual– and I’ve wanted to explore more gender-queer/masculine appearances. Living in Taiwan, I was free to explore my gender presentation (as I did not have the expectations of my home community of how to look/dress), and I enjoyed presenting as more androgynous. As a white foreigner in Taiwan, I have a different level of privilege of presenting as queer (because no matter how I present my gender, I will still be firstly perceived as a “foreigner” rather than my gender), and I was allowed to just “exist” rather than constantly having to out myself/pronouns. Combined with friends I met in CET’s program who expressed their gender in similar ways, we were able to exist in gender-affirming ways — and we had a lot of open discussions about this. From these conversations, I learned that me and my ex-partner are not compatible — because our gender presentation and sexuality do not align — and I learned that this imbalance limited how I was able to express my gender identity/sexuality in the United States.

As painful as these realizations were to have abroad, it felt liberating to learn these truths about myself. For the first time in my life, due to CET’s study abroad, I had physical space and time away from my friends and family — which allowed me to reflect a lot on my wants for the future. Unfortunately, this culminated in the end of a long-term relationship, but simultaneously opened my life up in so many ways that I’m excited for.

This is not how I expected my last blog post to go three months ago (and it’s sad to be writing this) but I’m so grateful for how everything has turned out– and will continue to unfold. If I have any wisdom to share from this experience — it truly is to rely on the people from your study-abroad program and be willing to change. My life will never be the same due to studying abroad, and I’m beyond thankful for the friendships and realizations I’ve made along the way. I’m looking forward to how my life will continue to unfold due to this experience. Thank you for reading :)