A reminder of love: the love stories of international students

It is the 14th of February. You wake up, open your Facebook and see your feed full with pictures of people with their partners, love quotations and cheesy memes. It’s Valentine’s day once again. Every restaurant will be crowded with couples sharing glasses, cinemas with lovers holding hands and shops promoting gift cards with sweet declarations. Maybe ‘The Holiday’ will be on TV. All over the world people are happy to be celebrating the day with the one they love. According to the National Retail Federation, in order to prove their affection towards one another approximately $18.2 billion was spent on Valentine’s day last year.

However, there are also many people who spend the day feeling sad and others that simply don’t care at all. And this is not only down to their relationship status, but is also a result of their culture. In this article students living in England away from their significant other, shared their thoughts and feelings about spending Valentine’s Day alone, separated by boarders and oceans .

The decision to leave the comfort of your own home and having to say goodbye to the people closest to you is never going to be an easy one. For international students this decision is even harder. Erasmus is a program which is important for career and self-development, but there are times when you can’t help remembering the phrase: ‘all we need is love’. And the promise of feeling fine and surrounded by affection in a far away land seems an improbable. Valentine’s Day can become a challenge. However, completely denying people’s capacity to adapt to their surroundings away from their lovers back home, would be a terrible fault on my part.

Marianne Louise, from the Medical University of Angers, in France, is an example. Marianne decided to come to the University of Liverpool for an internship at the university Hospital for a three month period. At the beginning, Marianne explains, breaking the news to her boyfriend was not easy. But after getting his support, it was more challenging to say ‘see you soon.’ In the train station, they got separated with the promise that their affection would remain and that no matter where, what they want is to stay together. As Valentine’s Day is not as important in France, Marianne explains how there was never the pressure to spend it with someone. ‘I will call him’, she said smiling, as they do every day.

Zoe Rose – an undergraduate student from the Seychelles changed her warm island to a cold, rainy one. For two years she has been in a relationship, which started on a beach back in her hometown. At the beginning, Zoe was unsure how serious the relationship would end up being, at the age of just 16. According to her, in the Seychelles it is common for people to start relationships when they are seeing someone, even though they would prefer to keep it casual, especially women who are concerned with their self-image: “When you are in a relationship, people look at you as if you are more serious” says Zoe. After their first kiss on New Years Eve 2015, time transformed the attraction in Zoe’s relationship from a strong friendship to a long term romance.

When her acceptance letter to the University of Liverpool came, Zoe’s doubts about being young and attached to a guy gave space to a feeling of sadness. She thought that life would tear them apart and that it would be unbearable to live without him. On his side, he tried to be there for her from the beginning, helping with everything that she would need to get ready to come to University. It was him who brought her to the airport, and waiting for the plane, they cried and declared that they would work it out. They are still together and text everyday. Yes, she has her down moments but declares to be coping better than she thought. Valentine’s Day here is, for her, worse than if she would have stayed at home still separated from him. Although not everyone celebrates Valentine’s day in Seychelles, younger generations are starting to adopt it. Despite the increase in the market propaganda , nationally it is still not considered to be very important by the citizens. Zoe describes spending Valentine’s day alone in the UK as: “It is just the pressure of other people that makes me feel sad.”

Raíra Rondon, a Brazilian international student living in Leeds, is also having a distant relationship with her boyfriend back in Rio. She highlights the importance of dialog and how mobile phones help them to feel the closeness through the distance. He is the person she looks to for support while dealing with the issues of living in a culture so different and far from home. For her, distance can work out to be a good thing, as it shows how much the person is important in your life, putting the relationship to the test and giving more value to the connection. “Companheirismo” is a Portuguese word that she used to describe what they have, which means a type of relationship with mutual support, as well as affection and solidarity. In Brazil, people do not have Valentine´s Day, they celebrate something similar, but in June. So she declares that the specific date will probably not affect her that much, but she knows if that happens, he will be there for her.

Robyn Farrell is British and met her boyfriend on her exchange program in Chile. For her what is important is their relationship in general and how much affection they still have for each other. According to her, Valentine’s Day is really commercialised in the U.K, although the essential  being actually the opposite. She argues that it should be a day more related to the people  we care about, than feeling anxious to be romantically involved with someone or to do something very special. For example, she is spending this time with her friends, having a dinner together.

Valentine´s day is more about feeling how much we are loved and that is not reduced to the girlfriend and boyfriend relationship form nor to just physical interaction. It is a day to remind us that all healthy ways of affection are significant and have an important role in our lives. For the women quoted here, as for many people, including myself, our beloveds living in another country still have their place in our hearts, along with family, childhood friends and the people who we’ve met in the UK who are trying to get to know us better each day. It is a reminder of our ability to love, even ourselves. Showing how we are able to move to another city, travel the world or even be the ones who stayed, and still maintain a good connection with each other. A day when we can realise our capacity to also develop new friendly relationships. Meeting new faces that, before we noticed, put a smile in our own. People who were once a stranger and now we want to hug before they say hello. Because as Liverpool has taught me, no matter where you are and what day of the year it is – “You will never walk alone”.

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