Long Distance Relationships: Insight from 8 PCVs

It’s February and love is in the air! Sadly, for many Peace Corps Volunteers in long distance relationships, that’s exactly where it’s going to stay.

Making the decision to enter a long distance relationship (LDR) while serving abroad is no easy task. Let’s face it, deciding to join the Peace Corps in general isn’t an easy choice — two years living in a foreign country, immersed in a new culture, speaking a new language — it’s all a little overwhelming but hey, why not add more fire to the flame and make things even more complicated?

And that’s just what we did.

With the help of a few fellow PCVs and LDRers here in Costa Rica, today we’re sharing some of our greatest tips, advice, and our own personal experiences on being in love while being abroad.


My Story

After graduating from college (go Badgers) I applied to the Peace Corps, packed my bags, and moved to Lake Tahoe, California to spend a year “ski bumming” while my application processed through the old system, which took about an entire year. After interviewing and receiving my Peace Corps invitation, I found myself settled into a completely new life. I had a great job, I was learning how to ski, had fallen madly in love, and, not to mention, was living in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

FullSizeRenderYeahhh I wasn’t going anywhere.

So I declined my invitation but over the next few years, I never stopped thinking about the Peace Corps and the experience I could have had — it always just felt like something I needed to do. So in 2015, I reapplied and received an invitation to serve in Costa Rica. At this time my boyfriend and I had been living together for almost three years and not once did he try to stop me and even agreed that Costa Rica wasn’t “that far.”

After moving from California to Denver (where Alex is from) and living there for six months, I packed up my car and set off on a road trip to Wisconsin with my mom. I cried SO HARD the entire way and up until the day I left for Costa Rica felt like I was making the craziest decision leaving behind a person and life that I loved.

As I sit here writing this now, 3 months away from completing my Peace Corps service and returning to my life in Denver with Alex, I am so proud of us for not only making our relationship work, but allowing it to flourish over the past two years. It hasn’t been easy, and has required both of us to be flexible, understanding, and learn to communicate in new ways, but we don done it and we gon’ be poppin’ bottles in T-minus 90 days.

Tily (ME/PCV) & Alex

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What are some tips and ways you make your LDR work?
Just do it and don’t overthink it before you leave! You have no idea what your life will be like abroad so stay calm and take it one day at a time.

Do things together from afar. Read books, watch shows, share memes and cat videos, music, etc. Even though we can’t always physically be together sharing the things we love help keeps us emotionally connected.

After our first visit together we always tried to have a next trip planned. Having a date and time to look forward to together always gave us something to be excited about.

Focus on four months at a time. If you start thinking about the two years in total you will spiral down a rabbit hole. Take it in chunks and enjoy the ride!

When was your most difficult time?
I think we will both say with confidence that the beginning suckeddddd. It was hard, really hard. In fact we split up for a few months when I was in pre-service training because it just felt like we were in two different worlds. We didn’t know how to be “us” from afar and as a PCV, your first six months are just such a roller coaster. Once I got to my site things settled down and we fell back in love again via Facetime.

What has been hardest for you as a couple while being abroad?
Just missing each other all the time! It’s hardest for me when Alex is doing the things we love to do together: skiing, hanging out with friends, grocery shopping (I know I’m weird), and most of all, the times when he is just at home on the weekend hanging out with our kitty (lazy Saturday nights curled up with wine and Netflix please?!). I feel better when he tells me we have the rest of our lives to do that — it’s true.

How often do you see each other?
Like I mentioned above, the beginning was difficult due to scheduling and training, but once I got the first few months of service out of the way, we’ve managed to see each other every 4-5 months. Our schedule has gone something like this:
October 2016: 1 week in Wisconsin (my home state)
February 2017: 2 week trip to Nicaragua
July 2017: 2 weeks in Denver (where Alex lives)
November 2017: 1 week trip in Mexico with Alex’s family
February 2018: Alex visits Tily in Costa Rica for 5 days (finally right?)

I know this isn’t always manageable for people serving in countries further away, or people who can’t take a lot of time off work but once you and your partner find your own rhythm and have dates to look forward too, things will feel natural.

Method of communication: Text daily via iMessage and Facetime when I can get WiFi in the city, usually 2-3 times per month.

Although I absolutely cannot wait to go back to our life together, and I’ve missed my partner in crime every day for the past two years, not once have I regretted choosing this experience. If your partner is worth his or her salt they will support you and grow with you while you are embarking on this life-changing journey.


James (PCV) and Avery

Lower pic: James and Avery with Rocky, the dog that James adopted here and will be taking back home with him!

For those who don’t know me, my name is James Craine and I am a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Volunteer living in a rural palm community on the pacific coast.

I’ve been with my partner, Avery, for four years now, two of which have been spent long distance. We met during our junior years in college through a student organization. We spent our first two years mostly together, with a few months apart due to my work in Florida, away from Virginia. So long distance wasn’t exactly something new.

After studying English Linguistics, Peace Corps fell into place, satisfying both my desires to live abroad and gain teaching experience before grad school. Neither of us wanted to end things so we decided to continue our relationship from afar, while we individually worked on our career goals.

Before departing, we received countless questions like, “so are you going to be in an open-relationship,” “are you two really serious?,” etc. etc. It was frustrating that people were questioning and in some ways undermining the validity of our relationship.

The longest time we spent apart was about nine months, which was the time spent between arriving, pre-service training, and making it to our communities until I was allowed to take vacation. I’m fortunate that Costa Rica isn’t too far from the US, so I have traveled back home to see him three times. Avery also visited me twice here, albeit shorter amounts of time given a hurricane and a winter snow storm delay.

One challenge in general has been that my community has next to no cell service unless you climb one of the bluffs, so reliable communication has been a struggle. I would go hiking to get better service, and enjoyed grocery trips where I could get access to internet. I even moved onto one of those bluffs to have better reception, but it’s still not the same quality or speed. Because of this, Avery and I mostly text and once in a blue moon call each other. It has worked for us with minor miscommunications, but it’s our style. It’s important to find what works for your relationship, because there are tons of couples who say they could never just text. The other fun thing we do is send memes back and forth to each other. It’s nontraditional, but it always brightens my day with a good laugh.

Like any volunteer will tell you, there are many highs and lows, even within the same hour. I have had a very trying service to say the least. My arrival to this extremely conservative community (with the belief that yoga is the devil’s work and witches bother people by climbing around their roofs at night) has resulted in a lot of friction. I was robbed twice during my service; add in problems with my projects, and the result was a lot of added stress and the sentiment of isolation.

However, through those most difficult times I was thankful to have Avery throughout it all. He was the voice of reason when I wanted to quit and my sounding board for many difficult situations. It’s cheesy, but I wouldn’t still be here without his support. I think having someone to talk to about those issues, and then coming to visit me to see firsthand some of the realities have brought us closer.

Peace Corps is not for everyone and I don’t think every relationship can handle it, but I think it’s a great testament to having trust and supporting each other through a number of hurdles. If you are thinking about applying while in a relationship, my advice is to talk with your partner to see whether or not you both are willing to do distance, what methods of communication work best, and just be really honest with yourselves and your goals.

Just about two more months until we’re flying home, Tily! YASS JAMES. We can’t wait!


Alex (PCV) and Amanda

What are some tips and ways you make your LDR work?
Just general relationship advice, but I think it becomes magnified in a long distance relationship: Focus on how you can love more, not how you’d like to be loved more.

A key is figuring out how to stay connected to one another. When your life changes as much as it will during PC service, just staying in constant communication isn’t enough to stay connected. You need to continue to do activities together, just like you would in any “normal” relationship. Amanda and I have a little book club between the two of us. We are constantly reading a book together, and discussing our takeaways from it as we go along. This is a long distance activity we can share that helps us feel connected to one another and gives us a commonality in our lives. We also try and have date nights together. For us, this typically means eating popcorn and laughing over The Office together.

A helpful insight that kept us going was knowing that the first 3 months were the most difficult, and that most people in long distance that are going to fail will break up in those first 3 months. During those first 3 months, we were very conscience of this fact, and had a pretty active countdown going until we had made it out of the roughest time. After having done long distance for about 11 months now, we can confirm that we found those first 3 months to be the most difficult.

Amanda and I share a common faith, we’re both Christian, and it has been invaluable for both of us. Even when the both of us can’t be present to support one another, or when we fall short, we always have our faith to rely on. Also, this has helped to support the trust we have in one another. We always have the assurance that the other wouldn’t act contrary to the way we believe God expects us to, which is typically in line with our own expectations. Semi-frequent visits are great of course, and it gives you both something to look forward to.

When was your most difficult time?
The first couple weeks after leaving home, as well as the first couple weeks after moving to site, were the most difficult, as we were forced to adapt to new constraints on our relationship.

Arguments always made for especially difficult times as well. Limited communication, limited knowledge on each others day to day lives, not having the ability to be able to work things out in person, and feeling disconnected from one another made any fights extra emotionally charged.

What has been hardest for you as a couple while being abroad?
Amanda and I fully trusted each other prior to me leaving for PC service, but PC service requires a completely different type of trust. When living in different countries you have no choice other than to trust everything your significant other says. When you’ve never had to lean on such an absolute trust like that before, its difficult. With long distance now being “normal” for us, it has forced us to have a deep unshakable trust in each other we would have never had otherwise.

Method of communication: Constant communication is key!! I was sure to make it clear to PC staff that I wanted a site where I would get internet coverage at the least on my phone, so that we could always stay in contact via whatsapp. I have great service here in site, and we stay in touch via facetime or whatsapp video calls.


Zora (PCV) & Zaquan

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What are some tips and ways you make your LDR work?
My boyfriend’s advice is don’t it. Abort the mission. But really though! For the person staying behind, you should think about your goals and start to achieve them. Really take the time to focus on you and what you want to do. Your relationship isn’t on the back burner but it’s simmering until you can turn up the heat when you reunite with your love — just kidding that was really sappy. But having goals and working towards them on both sides of the relationship will make you stronger as individuals and a unit.

When was your most difficult time?
My boyfriend is a bit dramatic so he likes to say this wasn’t difficult because he feels like he is always abandoned but again, he is dramatic! I think the most difficult time for me was during PST. I was one of the few people who didn’t have internet access in the host families houses and I also didn’t have a cell phone plan so I wasn’t able to talk to my family, friends, or my boyfriend much if at all.  It was a bit depressing for me but once I got to my final site I got better access to the internet and things got more on track. It also helped that he came to visit me two months after that for his birthday.

How often do you see each other?
We see each other a lot via Facebook Messenger video and I have been able to see him in person about 3 or 4 times within the past two years. Having our weekly conversations always keeps it normal for us — I also love him to pieces so that helps! He acts tough but I know he misses me maybe more so than i miss him. He is a big baby 🙂

Method of communication: We use Facebook Messenger. I tried downloading Skype but it was too difficult. We have phone conversations through a regular connection and we also message each other often. I tend to be the bad guy cause i forget to call him but he always calls me. I know I should do better but I like that he calls me cause that shows he cares and is still interested even though I forget to pick up the phone to do the same. Whoops!


Amber (PCV) & Bear

What are some tips and ways you make your LDR work?
My biggest tip is do what’s right for YOUR OWN relationship because every one is different, and there’s not a cookie cutter approach for what always works with everyone. When I first started my service my bf and I agreed to be in an open relationship just because an RPCV friend told us that was much more successful for PCVs. But after some months we talked about it again and confessed that it only caused insecurities. We were happier going back to being monogamous. Neither approach is better than the other, but we found what was more comfortable for us.

When was your most difficult time?
The most difficult time was DEFINITELY the first couple months when I got to site. I was alone, had no friends, had a lot to adjust to, fatigues and headaches from the change of climate, and not much to do. I missed my boyfriend a lot, but thankfully I have him because he is also the one who helped me the most through that time.

What has been hardest for you as a couple while being abroad?
The hardest part of the relationship is just the fact that we’re always missing each other. Besides that our relationship is a very positive thing!

How often do you see each other?
He has visited me here twice, and I went to the the us twice since my service. So we see each other only twice a year.

Method of communication: We use Whatsapp to text everyday, and I don’t get much service in my site so we only call once or maybe twice a week. When I stay somewhere with WiFi we video chat.


Collin (PCV) and Angela

Why do long distance: When you know that two years and change isn’t so long in comparison with the life you have ahead together. There’s just a feeling that tells you, you will make it through and be even better on the other side, because being together in the end is so worth it.

What are some tips and ways you make your LDR work?
Trying to find some sort of a routine can be good. When I go on runs, I’ll call my girlfriend because I know there is better signal and it’s a time I can carve out in the day. Or when I’m walking to the colegio (high school), etc.

Also, writing! Before I left we had made journals to write in. I use it as a space to write about my day and anything really, but also as a personal letter to her. It helps to reflect and make sure you’re just soaking it all in.

Hobbies!!! Obviously you can’t connect all the time, and as we know Peace Corps life isn’t always the busiest. So getting things you like to do that occupy your time are important. I’m picking up the guitar, have done various woodwork/manualidades projects, trying my hand at gardening, cooking, and reading.

And it is pretty critical to have something to look forward to. Like Angela is coming to visit this month and that’s something we can talk about and get excited about. Gonna be awesome!

What has been hardest for you as a couple while being abroad?
Not being able to share all of the experiences. The day to day passes by, and you can only connect about so much. That leaves things unsaid and creates a gap along with the already physical distance. Whether that be “rural Costa Rican cell signal,” varying schedules, or a whole bunch of factors, sometimes it just seems like things are going against ya… but the commitment and belief in one another keeps ya going.

Also, a few months ago I came back from my brother’s wedding in the States and having known that there was basically still almost 2 years left – pretty rattling. But really fortunate to keep building our resilience and all the support we have with each other and around us. We have taken this challenge on as an opportunity to grow ourselves as individuals, while also developing as a couple. The whole “distance makes the heart grow fonder,” is a dicho (saying) for a reason. For us it has been a way to reflect on how grateful we are for what we have.


Christine (PCV) and Min

What are some tips and ways you make your LDR work?
I would say that communication is the number one factor to making a LDR work, especially in Peace Corps. We were dating for around 3 years and long distance for about a year before I left for Costa Rica, so we had already sort of worked out how to do the long distance thing. What I would recommend for someone who has never done it is to have an honest conversation with their partner about what is expected in terms of the relationship and communication before they are separated. For example, maybe one person thinks skyping once a week should be the expected for a communication, while the other person wants to talk every other day. This could cause tension. Figuring this out before you leave definitely mitigates the potential problem.

Another thing I believe why my relationship works is honesty and being open about things going on in your life. Since Peace Corps is totally different than job or school in the states, sometimes it can feel that you are left out of the other person’s life. I ask my boyfriend a lot of questions about his job, new friends, etc. He moved to a new city around a year ago, so I sort of felt out of the loop, but asking a lot of questions and being open about what is going on in each other’s lives helps us.

Another tip I would recommend is finding something in common that you can do together while separated. For example, you can read the same book, watch the same TV/movies, plan a trip when he/she comes to visit, etc. Have something that you can both participate in and look forward to.

There have been ups and downs in our relationship during service, but that does happen in all relationships. Having good communication is necessary during these times because it is much harder to figure out problems when you are apart. Being long distance really tests your relationship and your communication, but you definitely learn more about yourself and the other person and how to communicate effectively because of it.

When was your most difficult time?
There are many difficult times during service, but in terms of a relationship I think it’s the weeks right after we have visited each other. It’s really hard to leave/say goodbye and go back to site, which at times can feel really lonely. Some ways to help with this is to plan in advance things to do or people to meet up with when you get back to site to be able to keep yourself occupied. The first two weeks are definitely the worst for me, but after those are over, it slowly starts to get better.

What has been hardest for you as a couple while being abroad?
Not having one of your closest support systems with you. Although, you can talk through text and sometimes skype, it is difficult to not having someone physically there with you.

How often do you see each other?
It has varied between 10 months and 3 months, but on average every 6 months.

Method of Communication: We talk through Whatsapp and Skype. We used to write letters to each other and send little gifts, but after one of the packages got lost, we resorted to only talking electronically.


Sierra (PCV) & Tone

What are some tips and ways you make your LDR work?
I think the most important thing, especially in Peace Corps is that both parties are working to stay busy and accomplish a goal or passion in their life. I know that in Peace Corps, that’s a huge goal for many of us. You also have to stay busy and keep your mind in the game and not let yourself think too hard about how much you miss your partner. And back home, your partner has to do the same.

I think flexibility is important too and this comes hand in hand with trust. A lot of us don’t have constant access to internet and communication and/or schedules don’t always line up. If you don’t have complete trust in your partner it can be easy to make assumptions as to what’s going on.

Another thing I think is important is to not put yourself in a vulnerable position. In the Peace Corps, everyone is really close and you become like a big family, but you still don’t want to put yourself in a position, like being alone with a person of the opposite sex or something that could make your partner feel uncomfortable or create an environment for something to happen that you might regret. Keeping your relationship priority in social situations will set your LDR up for success.

This could be debatable because of the age we live in but not having a super active social media account has been important for my relationship. I don’t want my boyfriend looking at my Facebook page and wondering who I was hanging out with or who’s tagging me in photos because it’s easy for these things to be taken and seen out of context. Neither of us share a lot on social media and we are both conservative with what we post.

You don’t have to be with someone who necessarily understands why you want to do Peace Corps, but you should be with someone who supports you and your values and goals. And that goes both ways — accepting and supporting each other during this time is paramount.

From the perspective of the PCV, become immersed and integrated into your community as possible. Finding relationships and comfort in your new home will help fill the void of losing your partner (physically). Have people that make you laugh and smile – and that can even be within your PCV community. You have pockets of time when there isn’t as much to do and downtime in your service and the last thing you want to do is fill your head with negatively. Finding positive friends and people you can talk and relate to is important.

What has been hardest for you as a couple while being abroad?
Finding the right time to communicate has been a challenge for us. For most of my service my boyfriend has worked a third shift job, from 5pm-2am. For him, the best time to talk is right when he gets off work around 2am since he is busy taking care of other responsibilities during the day time. So I wake up around 2am so we can talk for an hour or so and then I go back to sleep. Yeah, it messes with my sleep schedule but I got used to it and it’s been one of the ways I’ve shown flexibility in our relationship.

When was your most difficult time?
As a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Volunteer, your schedule revolves around the school year so when summer break comes around, you have a lot of free time on your hands. The adjustment can be difficult and you have to find a way to balance and manage the change and make sure negative thoughts and missing your partner don’t take over.

Method of Communication: We use the Whatsapp app to text and call.




And there you have it!

Of course, every country of service and every relationship is unique and will present its own challenges but trust us, it’s 100% worth it!

A special shout out to all the PCVs who contributed to this blog — James, Christine, Collin, Alex, Zora, Amber, Sierra — you guys are the best 🙂

 

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