More than sixty percent of Rollins students go abroad before they graduate, so the actual majority of students deal with some insane changes and challenges, including, for many, a four-month detour in their sex lives. It’s either a wild experience of foreign love or several months of pining for your significant other. I argue that this is the dichotomy that people seem to assume is happening but is not truly the case. The reality is much more complicated.
First, everyone thinks that you should break up with your boring American partner and free yourself up unless this is the person you are going to marry. Anyone who has been abroad would probably tell you it’s really not that black and white. Shit relationships do not survive distance so well. You’re completely wrapped up in a new life and new adventure; it takes brainpower and is emotionally taxing to miss someone everyday for four whole months. What are you really missing when you stay in a relationship and do not hook up with locals or other people on your program? That depends on you. Staying with your significant other can be the right thing, but only if you do it for the right reasons, and that reason does not have to be that you are going to marry them. It simply means they are worth your investment.
If you are single and choose to um…engage the culture, you are in for some interesting boundary navigation. If you are studying in a country where English is not the primary language spoken, navigating consent is a barrier you should be concerned with. Attraction definitely transcends language borders, but how can you clearly communicate that you just want oral, you only like your left nipple pinched, or even basics like ask someone to wear a condom in a language you don’t speak? Movies give us this romantic and exotic ideal that your bodies will come together magically and tangle in ecstasy. This is not true in America and it is not true in other parts of the world.
So being vocal and active in your sexual decisions becomes even more important, crucial in fact. Women tend to not be as vocal about what they want in bed because of the different socialization around sex we receive, and not being vocal about what you do and don’t want often leads to crossed boundaries in the bedroom. So when your head is spinning from the foreign alcohol and the sexy accent someone is hitting on you with, try to use your voice. It is awkward to have miscommunication around sex to begin with and if your partner literally does not know what you are asking for, it is even trickier. So pull out some sign language and put some hands where you want them. Oui, Si, Ne, Ja, Sim, Ndiyo, Yego, if you are feeling yes say it, and if things are not going how you want them to when you are hooking up, make that as clear as you can. It won’t be as seamless as we think it should go, but go to new lengths to explain what your yeses are and you’ll be participating in your own pleasure even more.
In a new cultural context we are left with not only boundary questions but more questions surrounding hookup and dating culture. Some places you’re golden, practices are the same as the US, and some places sleeping together once means you’re in a relationship which can be a big wake up call. In any case, no matter whom you do or don’t do abroad, you’ll have some interesting stories and learn a lot about either the relationship you left behind or the new ones you’re forging. The cliché is that you’ll learn about yourself abroad, and while you’ll do some soul searching on your own, you’re going to be learning about yourself through relationships with people; which can be messy whether or not you’re naked.