long distance relationship
Felicia Chiew's wedding photo. Source: Felicia Chiew

“Don’t have a long-distance relationship.”

“It’s not worth it.” 

“It’s never going to work out.”

These are some highly familiar words to anyone going through a long-distance relationship. 

We all know the cliche of falling for someone while studying at university. You’re young, free, single, and surrounded by similar people with like-minded interests.

It makes perfect sense for you to date someone — that is, if the person you’re dating is from the same home country as you.

Imagine meeting the love of your life while attending class in a foreign country … and they’re from a country that’s a 14-hour flight away.

You would have to juggle different timezones, video calls and all the other difficulties that come with a long-distance relationship, but the fact remains – you might not see each other often – or again – after the semester is over.

Drama aside, the situation is not entirely hopeless if both sides are dedicated to making it work – a bonus if they have plans set in stone for the future, too.

Approximately 75% of college students in the US have been in a long-distance relationship, and 58% of them have an LDR success story. All things considered, the odds are actually pretty equal.

Meet Felicia Chiew, who turned her long-distance relationship into marriage

long-distance relationship

Felicia Chiew in Melbourne during her university days. Source: Felicia Chiew

Systems analyst Felicia Chiew had many friends and family telling her that her relationship would never work out.

Hailing from Malaysia, Chiew studied Business IT  in Melbourne, Australia, for three years at RMIT University. There, she met her partner Bryce Chee, from Singapore, who joined the same course as her.

By the second semester, they’ve started dating.

“We actually met at orientation,” says Chiew, who likes to fondly reminisce about their first meeting.

“We were in the same friend circle and classes, and eventually, we started hanging out outside of university.”

Fast forward to today, she’s living a happy married life with Chee in Melbourne.

long-distance relationship

Chiew graduated from RMIT University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business IT in 2019. Source: Felicia Chiew

Not all sunshine and flowers

Like all long-distance relationships in university, they had their ups and downs.

The biggest issue was, of course, that her partner was from a different country.

Both spent their university years with each other with much joy, but there was always the looming thought of returning to their respective home country after graduating.

They experienced the common struggles associated with having a long-distance relationship during breaks between university semesters when Chiew and Chee would return to their home countries for months at a time.

Even though they weren’t half a globe away from each other, it would have still cost money to travel to see each other.

And when they graduated from RMIT, Chee returned to Singapore while Chiew went home to Malaysia. This was their longest time spent away from each other — a long-distance relationship that tested them in many ways.

Ultimately, both decided they wanted to work towards a future where they are physically together.

“I think it was during our time apart when he realised that he loved me a lot,” jokes Chiew. “It only made us more determined to make it work.” 

They decided to strive towards building a new life in Australia, to attempt to cohabit under respective work visas after graduating from university.

It was a struggle at first – companies usually avoided hiring if they needed to sponsor work visas, and it was hard to find a company that was willing to do so.

At the same time, she had to come to terms with the fact that she had new responsibilities, now that she was living with her partner.

“Permanently migrating to a different country was not an easy choice. We had to leave behind friends and family in our home countries,” she says.

“It was also my first time living with someone who wasn’t my family and we had to learn a lot of things about each other to make it work.”

Things were especially dire when the pandemic struck, and Chiew had to work two jobs a day to support herself.

Fortunately, she was able to secure a work visa that allowed her to stay in the country and settle down.

Today, she’s a full-time application support analyst for accounting automation firm Blackline, and even received her Australian permanent residency in January 2024.  

long-distance relationship

Chiew and her partner Chee for their pre-wedding photoshoot. The couple married on Dec. 11, 2021. Source: Felicia Chiew

How to survive a long-distance relationship

We caught up with Chiew to find out more about how she turned her LDR into a successful marriage.

It’s common to find tips online for exchange students struggling with long-distance relationships, or trying to come to terms with their partner being from a different country. Seeing as you’ve gone through both circumstances, what advice could you give them?

There’s always a lot of helpful tips and articles online, but here’s what worked for me – 

Be mindful of cultural differences 

When your crush or subject of interest is from a different country, it’s likely that they would have varying takes on a multitude of topics.

Dating is just one of them, and if things get serious, there’s always the hard-to-avoid topics of marriage, children, and more.

Depending on the country, the dating culture could be a lot more traditional or casual than you’re used to. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind.

Not everyone would have the same understanding of dating, especially not in a foreign country.

It’s important because this leads to setting the right expectations with one another respectfully from the get-go. 

Talk to people around you

This goes without saying, but never solely rely on online websites or content creators for tips and experience.

What you see online is almost always edited for a specific audience, and you will miss out on specifics or nuances.

It’s always helpful to talk to family and friends, specifically friends who are in the same classes or university as you.

It helps to get a vibe check of the person you’re interested in, and these friends will come in handy as a lookout if things go south.

Never go through your emotional struggles alone, no matter how cringy you may feel about it.

If things start to get serious, talk about the future

Studying abroad is often temporary, fleeting even.

If your relationship develops significantly, and you’re well aware there’s a deadline to your life abroad, it’s a hard but necessary topic to tackle with your partner earlier rather than later.

Is there anything you would tell students studying abroad to avoid when it comes to relationships?

Oh yes! So many people make the same mistakes, and it’s definitely frustrating to deal with. My top tip is to avoid these three things:

Finding love interests over finding friends 

When you’re overseas and in a new environment, finding a group of friends you can rely on is a lot more important than finding a potential partner.

In fact, finding a partner shouldn’t even be your priority, because your support system won’t be made up of a circle of people you fancy.

If you can’t handle friends from different countries or backgrounds, you definitely can’t handle a partner.

Closing yourself off based on prejudice

I hate to say it, but all of us are sure to have some level of prejudice against people who are different from ourselves.

Studying abroad is like taking the first step into a new world — don’t waste it by letting your preconceived notions take the wheel and steer you away from earnest people simply based on their cultural differences.

Prioritising dating over studying

Again, I hate to sound like your mom, but let’s not abandon your studies for your dating life. 

If you have the opportunity to study abroad, it’s a great chance to meet people from vastly different walks of life, regardless of whether they develop into a love interest.

It’s easier said than done, but do your best to maintain a balanced life. If a relationship pulls you away from your education enough for you to flunk, it’s probably not a great relationship anyway.