the hard way...
Meg, a British student, met her Dutch boyfriend, Wilbert, via Tinder in Groningen last December.
A month later, he moved to Iceland for an internship.
Now, she’s in Singapore and he’s in the Caribbean.
By their first anniversary, they will have been together in four different countries.
‘It’s been 20 days so far that we’ve actually spent in the same place, which is really weird. It feels like much, much longer’
In early 2015, they’ll both be back in the Netherlands. ‘The idea of being able to see him every weekend seems like some kind of magical, impossible dream now’.
Reading time: 6 min. (1579 words)
She was already pretty far from home in Groningen, but Meg Perry-Duxbury, a 20-year-old international economics and business student from England, is actually doing what she considers her study abroad right now in Singapore. About 7 months before she boarded the plane for southeast Asia, she met a boy.
As she recalls on Skype from her Ikea-clad bedroom in the massive Asian city, something about Wilbert van Deelen’s Tinder profile caught her eye. Aside from being cute, they had a mutual friend – they both swiped right. They got to know each other a bit: ‘We talked about animated movies and Lord of the Rings, so maybe the first reason I liked him was that he’s a bit of a dork,’ Meg says, smiling.
Wilbert, also Skyping from his hotel-like room on a Caribbean island, recognized that straight away, too: ‘We’re both pretty curious and adventurous. She’s a bit nerdy like me, too – we can make dark jokes and still find it funny.’ But the very first thing he noticed was that she was really pretty.
A world apart
They’re a world apart now, yet when he and Meg went on their first date in Groningen this January, he had never even come to the city before. Wilbert laughs really hard about it now. ‘Yeah, Groningen was so far – an hour away. When I come back, I can totally get on any train I want and meet her in half an hour!’ Meg has to laugh, too. ‘The idea of being able to see him every weekend seems like some kind of magical, impossible dream now’, she says, incredulously.
Within a month, they went from meeting for the first time to him moving away to Iceland for a semester to do an internship through his coastal zone management study at VHL University of Applied Science in Leeuwarden. Even though they had just met, Meg saw something in him and travelled to Iceland this spring for a visit. But it wasn’t until this summer that they officially became a couple. It wasn’t for lack of wanting to make it official, though: Wilbert planned to ask her to be his girlfriend in person.
Long distance relationships often mean important events don’t coincide with the moments you’re together, unfortunately. Wilbert remembers it well. ‘She said, ‘I don’t even get the feeling that you like me,’ and I was really angry and I just said, ‘Well, I was going to ask you to be my girlfriend when I’m in England!’ So… yeah!’, he says with playful exasperation.
The distance between Iceland and the Netherlands seems so little in comparison to how much further apart they are now. They both have countdowns on their phones to when they’ll see each other in the Caribbean when Meg comes to visit this winter.
A hug at the station
‘It’s been 20 days so far that we’ve actually spent in the same place, which is really weird. It feels like much, much longer’, Meg says. They will have spent time together in four different countries by the anniversary of that fateful swipe on Tinder.
It was an app that brought them together, and they have their pick of internet programmes to keep in touch now. They use WhatsApp, Skype and SnapChat, but timing is tricky: they are twelve time zones apart for now. ‘When I’m asleep, she’s doing school stuff, and when she’s asleep, I’m doing my work’, Wilbert says.
Although the internet has made communicating from afar easier, a bad Skype connection can ruin everything. ‘It’s all going well, then there’s a shitty connection and you both get pissed off and you’re just really frustrated, even though neither of you are doing anything’, Meg says. ‘It just destroys your good mood.’
Long distance relationships also mean a love-hate relationship with planes, trains and automobiles. ‘Oh god, I had to say goodbye to him at the train station last time, and we were both so upset’, Meg says. ‘Really, I’ve never hated the sound of a train arriving more in my life. I was so sad, I was crying so hard that an old woman whom I had genuinely never met came up and gave me a hug at the station. And he was so upset on the train that an old woman gave him a packet of tissues because she could see how sad he was!’
They don’t think they could do such extreme distance again. ‘I’m really glad I came to Singapore, but it’s been really painful. I don’t know if it’s really worth that in the end’, Meg says. Balancing pursuing the best options for yourself and finding a way to be in the same country can be tough – nowadays, they’re both trying to find a way to do that. ‘It’s not like everything’s changing massively, but I’m more determined to stay in a similar area’, Meg says
What are they looking the most forward to when they are in a so-called normal relationship again? ‘What, except for everything?’ Wilbert says. ‘Making stuff together, like breakfast or dinner, or just sitting on the couch in comfortable clothes that you wouldn’t go out the door wearing. It’s just about being in the same room together.’ They’ll both be back in the Netherlands early in 2015, and they’re more than ready for it. Wilbert says, ‘I know what I want now too, and I really want to be with her.’
The Erasmus generation
As international students become an ever-larger percentage at the RUG, chances of students from different countries getting together are quite good – they’re also almost always synonymous with at least a short period of long distance dating.
Although Meg isn’t an Erasmus student, an entire generation of European students have now had the opportunity to study abroad since 1987. In September, the Erasmus Impact Study was published: according to an article about it in The Independent, more than 25 percent of Erasmus students meet their long-term partner during their exchange, and more than one million babies have been born to these transnational couples.