A Different Kind of International Relations: Dating An Exchange Student



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Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

It was at one of those campus parties when Daisy first met Hugo.

“A really sweet, amicable guy. Our conversations got off to a splendid start, and before we knew it, the party was over,” she recounts. “Everyone was gathering their things, waving goodbyes, hugging each other, and then Hugo turned to me and asked if I wanted to hang out some time.” She agreed, of course, and thus began what was to become an intimate, loving relationship.

She is majoring in Sociology at the National University of Singapore, while he studies Geography at the University of Amsterdam. She lives in Singapore, while he lives half a world away. But as Thomas à Kempis said, “Love knows no limits, but ardently transcends all bounds.”

Naturally, doubts lingered: How were they going to move forward from there? ‘There’, being that brief,  joyous duration where they could meet on the snow-covered earth and travel together to school, or take in views from the same spot: A lustrous precipice, with the early morning waves crashing against its foot. It was during those times, so opportune for the discussion of the profound, that they spoke about their future, trying to map out their terrain before she had to return to Singapore.

In spite of their passions, there was undoubtedly the strain of hesitancy. They were not entirely certain if they were making the right choice; if this odd and wholly unexpected relationship could survive the distance. Both of them had their own lives: Separate families, friends, familiar neighbourhoods, restaurants, sights, all in their respective countries. If the relationship were to continue, one of them would eventually have to leave all that behind, uprooting himself or herself from their comfortable nest, to settle in a foreign land.

As of now, she tells me, the plan is for Hugo to move to Singapore once they graduate and are ready to start a life together. They had arrived at this decision after numerous talks, though it remains a far from immutable one.

Of course, the process will be nothing short of difficult. One must certainly commend the bravery of the willing party; Singapore and Netherlands are so different. The latter is mostly a spacious place, with buildings sprawled freely across the country – she jokes that Hugo will probably be annoyed at the deplorable lack of open spaces here, with high-rises looming from all sides. Another challenge is for herself, in communicating with Hugo’s parents. They rarely ever speak English, so getting to know them in conventional settings – such as over dinner – has been difficult; Hugo would always have to act as the translator.

Apart from all that, she tells me that there is nothing vastly different about dating a foreign student as opposed to dating a Singaporean. The only very obvious difference is that he always pays for meals – it’s a social norm amongst the Dutch. Otherwise, the differences aren’t necessarily obstacles. He is much more relaxed about life than most Singaporeans can afford to be, given the comparatively lower levels of stress when it comes to academics in the Netherlands.

They will be meeting each other again in May, on Hugo’s first visit to Singapore. She can hardly wait to introduce him to her excited parents (and even more excited friends), and to bring him around this little city, just as he had brought her around his larger one. Then in winter, it will be the other way around. It is safe to say that long-distance has almost become synonymous with the death of any relationship, but Daisy’s story is one of romance, patience, and compromise.

“It really isn’t as daunting as it seems,” she chirps happily.