What it’s like to date an overseas student


I wasn’t looking for love. Neither of us were. Okay, I know it sounds like the start of a barf-inducing romance novel, but please hear me out. Last July, I went to visit an elder, who my mom and I met at church and grew close to, for a day of arts and crafts. There, we met one of her daughters-in-law and started to make conversation on our families, hobbies, and what-nots. And then she slipped his name in, casually, while flattening a sheet of aluminum. What she said roughly translates to “My friend’s son will be staying at my house and attend school.” I thought, Okay, that’s interesting, but why are you telling me this? Then, she continued, “He’s from Spain.” Ohhhh, keep going, please. “He’s 17.” DING! DING! DING! DING! He’s going to live close by, he’s from the Latino motherland, and he’s a little older than me. I think yes! 

As cool and coincidental all of this information was, how realistic was it to think I could date this guy who I knew practically nothing about, especially an overseas student? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Bri. We’re not looking for love, remember? I know I said I wasn’t looking for love. I meant it, but if love came knocking at my door, I would answer. No more than 15 minutes had passed of talking with this stranger when she told me she thought I would be a good friend who could help her guest adapt. And that was all I needed to hear. 

Sunday, August 27, my family and I went to the woman’s house to finally meet Manuel. I’m kind of embarrassed to say I was counting down the weeks, but at last, he arrived. At the dinner table, I would occasionally glance at him, hoping for eye contact, but it was almost like he was avoiding me. He just looked down—at the plate, at the floor, at his hands. I ate my food and rode home somewhat disheartened but not entirely defeated. The following day, I got a text from him through WhatsApp (he had asked his caregiver to ask my mom to ask me for my number), apologizing for his social absence. Jetlag, he explained. That, I can excuse, but the profile picture? It was of him kissing another girl. Oof. I realized I could be the intruder if I made any advances, so I backed off and decided on being friends. 

Shortly after he arrived, he broke things off with his girl, and we got to talking. I always took the somewhat defensive friend-zoning attitude because things happened so soon. So soon that a few months in, he professed his love for me, and the one who dreamt of having a boyfriend ended up contemplating her options for two months. I thought, He’s going to leave in less than a year. I don’t want to make the same mistake of going too fast again. Do I even know him well enough? I’m glad I decided to date him because of the many good qualities he’s taught me so far in such a short amount of time, and I’ve also learned a few things about what it’s like to date an overseas student. 

The pros: 

1) I get to practice another language. In my case, it’s Spanish. Sure, I’m Hispanic. I’ve taken AP Spanish Language and gotten a five on the exam. However, English is everywhere, and its repeated exposure and usage has brought me to Google the difference between the imperfect subjunctive and the past perfect subjunctive tenses, to say cubrido instead of cubierto, and pronounce my words as if my tongue was too heavy to lift. Dating a Spaniard corrects these problems and even provides the opportunity to use the vosotros form. 

2) If things end up going badly, I won’t ever have to see him again. The chances of meeting him in the future by coincidence are super slim considering he’s not planning on attending college in the U.S., so a nasty breakup would be just that. 

3) If things end up going well, I will have a free tour guide when I visit his country. He would be someone trustworthy who knows my tastes and could save me time in relation to deciding on which tourist attractions I should visit and restaurants to eat at. Not to mention a possible lodging destination. 

The cons: 

1) He’s constantly touring the country. Florida? Disney World was a must. New York? Boarding the airplane next week. It’s egocentric to wish he took him with me or stayed with me instead of travelling, but he’s a student as well as a tourist, after all, who should embrace the chance of visiting as many sites here as possible. 

2) That one time he travelled home for the holidays, the six-hour difference was unbearable. It was always me who woke up late and would be too busy throughout the day to call, so he ended up staying awake until two a.m. almost every day while I comfortably dialed him at 8 p.m. That understandably caused frustration on his part. The distance also made it extra difficult to resolve issues because emotion was hard to read even through videocalls and not one hug could be exchanged. 

3) He doesn’t have a job or a car, so that means less dates out. Obviously, as an overseas high school student, those two aren’t options for him. If I had gotten my license six months ago, I would’ve been driving us around to dinner and the movies by now. There are things we can do at home and for free, and I’m not opposed to pay for our outings occasionally. 

4) It’s hard to know whether he knows American pop culture. Most people around the world are familiar with what’s popular in America, but I sometimes have to introduce artists and movies. 

The hardest thing about dating an overseas student will be the goodbye. Because it won’t be a choice, but rather an inevitable resort. Yes, you can have a long-distance relationship, but sadly, the reality of it is bleak. In addition to communication, a relationship needs physical contact, much like a baby needs its mother for affection and comfort. Plus, I’m probably not going to marry this person. Like any relationship at my age, it’s important to view this temporary relationship as a learning experience, in which I can learn more about myself and improve as well as attempt to find the good in all situations.