For Eilidh Latto, becoming an English language assistant in Romilly-sur-Seine meant living 900 miles away from her partner. This is what she learned.
Was there a positive side to working away from your partner?
Definitely. My placement was my opportunity to learn about France and about myself. If I had moved to Romilly-sur-Seine with my partner and started a new job, that would have been positive in its own way, but I wouldn’t have independently experienced daily life.
When I relocated, I couldn't send my partner to the shops or the bank for me. He couldn't help me order in a restaurant, make friends, navigate when I was lost, choose which queue to stand in at the post office or find new food at the market. Every opportunity to learn was mine alone.
We also had the space to learn about our relationship. We learned what we wanted and needed as we negotiated life apart. I believe that a relationship with the potential to be long-lasting will only strengthen from this opportunity.
Did you have concerns about starting a long-distance relationship?
I worried that we would no longer have anything in common after the placement. I also worried that we would eventually have nothing to talk about, and that we might realise we wanted different things or different people.
I still have some of those concerns, but over time, I learned to trust my partner. I have gained confidence that our relationship will last despite this time apart. I have learned that, although seeds of worry are natural, I don't need to nurture them. I try to nurture the good seeds and enjoy the garden.
Did you and your partner make a plan to manage the time and distance?
We discussed our futures seriously and we both wanted to stay together, but we agreed that no plan is better than a plan made in haste and fear. We also didn’t want to implement a plan without experiencing the situation, and I am glad we didn’t. It meant that the plan couldn’t fail (being non-existent), and that we couldn’t disappoint each other.
We wrote each other long letters to take with us and read throughout the year. I thoroughly recommend that. I read mine whenever I felt down or missed my partner. His words would perk me up after a difficult day.
What everyday things did you do to maintain your relationship during your placement?
We made an effort each day, and we expected one in return. That meant sending unexpected emails, random text messages and funny Snapchats. We tagged each other in memes that reminded us of each other. These all helped us to feel involved in each other’s lives.
I love getting a text about something ridiculous that my boyfriend is doing. For example, he lives on a farm and has just sent me a selfie he took with a chicken. I also love a postcard. It shows that the person has taken the time to do something special that takes more effort than a text message.
Having a physical sign of your partner in your home helps – photos, a jumper, a little gift, a letter. I left my cacti in my boyfriend’s flat, partly because I feared my mum would kill them. Hearing about their progress and seeing them in the background of Skype calls helped me feel like I had a presence in his life, even if it was only symbolic.
Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp calls and Facebook Messenger's video chat function are all gifts and you should make good use of them. Seeing your loved one’s face over a Skype dinner date can cheer you up after a tiring day.
Did you ever feel discouraged, or try anything that didn't work?
Social expectations of couples discouraged me sometimes. My partner was unable to visit me for logistical reasons. That was hard, but became much harder when people asked ‘When is he visiting? Oh, he's not… Why not? That’s terrible.’
It was hard not to feel influenced by other people’s opinions and Instagram Stories of their visiting partners. I had to accept that my relationship is unique. Other people’s lives are other people’s lives and good for them for living them. But good for you for living yours. Learning this gave me a skill that I hope to retain forever.
I felt worry, doubt, jealousy and insecurity – they are impossible to banish completely. You can also manage them if you are in a good place both mentally and with your partner. I decided to put myself first, say yes to opportunities like kayaking or going to a folk dance, be busy, be proactive about making the most of my experience, and to live fully in my location.
I am glad we didn't try a fixed schedule. I would have felt guilty when I got an invitation to do something, and had to cancel a Skype call. I would also have felt insecure when my partner had to cancel one of our regular appointments.
For a while, however, we were both busy and kept missing each other on Skype. I felt frustrated and lonely, so I spoke with my partner and made it clear that we needed to take more time for each other. In a situation that isn’t working, I recommend saying what you are unhappy with straight away, even if it feels minor. Communication is the most important tool you have in a long-distance relationship.
Knowing that I was doing my best to enjoy my life and supporting my partner to do the same worked very well for me during our eight months apart.
Find out how to apply to be an English language assistant.