By Ellie Buchdahl

13 February 2015 - 10:45

'One year at university in the UK changed everything.' Image ©

Sonny Annesley, licensed under CC-BY-2.0 and adapted from the original.

The British Council's Ellie Buchdahl meets international students who found love while studying at some of Britain's universities.

Alexandra, from the USA, and James, from the UK, met at the University of Oxford. Alexandra was doing a BA in History and Theatre with Honors; James was doing a BA in Ancient and Modern History. Alexandra takes up the story...

I met James at the very start of my junior year abroad at the University of Oxford from Barnard College in the USA. I had fallen in love with England – its history, beauty and theatrical tradition – on an 11-week trip with my high school. We had seen a total of 21 Shakespeare plays – and after that, I knew I wanted to come back to study in the UK.

Perhaps I was so thrilled by the time I arrived in 2009 that I was letting off an irresistible glow! I certainly hadn’t been ‘planning’ to meet the guy I would be with for over five years now.

James and I met, in stereotypically Oxford fashion, at a Hollywood-themed dinner via black tie and a little too much port. We were both obsessed with literature and theatre and we just clicked.

When I had to go back to the States after a year, there was no option but to make a long-distance relationship work – and we managed it for a year, until 2011, when I came back to Oxford to do my MSt in English Literature. It wasn’t just about James, of course. I wanted to focus on Elizabethan and Jacobean drama – and where better to do that than the home of those things in the UK?

I got a job teaching in New Jersey right after I turned in my Oxford thesis. Now, I am working in an international school in New York City.

James is in the UK; I am in the USA. It is incredibly hard, frustrating at times, but after three years’ practice and an incredible amount of patience, trust and commitment, we seem to have the long-distance thing down.

It is worth it. We are in love, we make each other happy and we support each other, even if we are 3,408 miles apart.

I’m not sure when or on which side of the ‘pond’ we will end up on but I do know, cheesy as it sounds, that Oxford, the university and the UK will always be incredibly special places for us – full of memories and love.

Armelle, from Norway and France, was on an Erasmus placement doing a BA in Liberal Arts with History at St Mary’s University College, Belfast, when she met David, from Northern Ireland, who was working near the university…

David and I met in a pub with the wonderful name of Filthy McNasty’s during my last year at university in Belfast. By that stage I had picked up a West Belfast accent, but I put on a French accent to impress him. It must have worked because he asked for my number. Our first date was to the Ulster Museum.

The relationship wasn't without its culture clashes. The first meal I cooked for David was Moroccan couscous. I followed my grandmother’s recipe and spent ages on the phone to my mum to check I had it exactly right – then David barely ate a quarter of it. It wasn't until several weeks later that he confessed he hadn't liked it. Even so, when the first meal David made me was chicken wrapped in bacon with canned peas and canned potatoes, it was quickly agreed that I would manage the cooking – couscous or no couscous.

I was in love with David; things were going well. I simply didn't know what to do when my BA came to an end. I remember he looked at me very calmly and said: ‘No worries; I’ll come with you.’ That was when it became real.

We moved to Dublin when we were 23. I did my Masters at Trinity and after that we moved to Norway for just under two years before moving back to Dublin where we are settled now, living in a cosy cottage with our dog Cuchulainn. It will be six years this April that we went on our first date and it is still an adventure

When David proposed, my father’s reaction to both of us was: ‘Are you sure?’ I have to admit, I could see his point – a Belfast man and a complicated part-French, part-Norwegian girl.

I suppose for me, the moment that sums up our relationship was on a rainy Saturday when David and I went to Dún Laoghaire and sat looking at the sea, watching the Stena Line ferry coming in. Suddenly David said: ‘Want to find out where that goes?’ We ran to the dock and bought return tickets. We had no passports, no change of clothes, we didn't even know where the ferry was going – until we ended up in Wales.

It was totally unplanned, unusual and exciting – just like our lives together.

Read an interview with Armelle in Education UK’s article about Belfast.

Odysseas, from Greece, and Mandana, from Iran, were both studying at Aston University in Birmingham when they met, aged 25. Ody was doing an MSc in Accounting and Finance; Mandana an MSc in Internet Technology. Mandana takes up the story…

We met in September 2006 during fresher's week. I don't think either of us was that impressed; it was registration day and we were both far too busy.

But we saw each other a few more times and after a couple of weeks, we ended up in a heated debate about whether the Greeks or the Persians were ‘better’. It was during dinner with friends in Birmingham’s Chinatown, when rain was pouring down outside. That debate was what brought us together.

Both of us had planned to stay for just one year to complete our studies. Needless to say, by the end of that fantastic year, we were both considering how to extend our time in the UK. In between the hard work of assignments, presentations and exams, campus life was a unique experience full of happy memories.

Thankfully, I was offered a PhD in Electronic Engineering. Ody decided to stay with me and pursue his career in accounting in the UK. Four years later and we were both still in the UK – and we had got married.

We finally left in early 2012 to be closer to our family in Toronto, Canada. But even now, three years on, we both miss Birmingham and the UK.

Neither of us thought we would be living our adult lives away from our home countries, least of all marrying someone from outside our own culture. One year at university in the UK changed everything.

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