Tell me if one of these scenarios sounds familiar to you: You're dreaming of volunteering abroad with ILP but don't want to leave a relationship behind?
You may be wondering what it will be like to volunteer abroad with them being on the other side of the world! Our previous head teacher, Miranda Brayton Sherwin had the exact same thoughts.
Miranda Brayton (now Sherwin) was the head teacher for our Summer 2017 Romania group. Single at the time, she decided to apply for one of our humanitarian programs as an ILP head teacher. Long story short, she was accepted and as she was preparing to leave she met Austin (her now husband)! After much thought and prayer (and second thoughts...it's only natural), they decided it was best for her and their relationship for her to go volunteer in an orphanage in Romania.
For all of you out there in the same situation; trying to decide if spending a semester apart is doable, I asked Miranda to tell us about her experience and if she had regrets with her decision.
What is it like to volunteer with a serious boyfriend at home?
"It was definitely an opportunity to learn more about myself and my relationship. I had gone on the program once before, and agreed to go to Romania again as a head teacher before anything got serious with Austin. As our relationship became more serious, I became pretty positive that I was going to marry Austin eventually, but we both felt like it wasn't right for us to get engaged before I left. I had never pictured dating someone seriously while going on the program, but (after some resistance and struggling to decide) I knew two things for sure: 1) I needed to keep dating Austin and 2) I needed to go to Romania over the summer. That's just what was right for us.
"Once I got to Romania, I realized that my situation wasn't as unique as I thought, or even the most serious. One of the other volunteers in my ILP group was already engaged and another was unofficially engaged. It was a great bonding experience for us and brought us closer as a group because I could rely on them and they understood.
"During my experience abroad, I discovered why a long-distance relationship was beneficial for us. We were able to get to know each other in new ways to a deeper level than many people experience even years into their marriage."
Was it harder/easier than you pictured?
"It was actually about as expected. The hardest part was when we'd go on vacations and the WiFi connection was bad, or the connection was bad at home. We are SO blessed with the technology we have today and spoiled to be able to talk to and see each other so often, but it definitely tested my patience sometimes!
"I don't think it was as much of a distraction as I initially worried it would be, mainly because I decided for it to not be a distraction. I wanted to utilize my short time there wisely and immerse myself in the experience. I expected Austin to distract me from the experience, but actually he just became part of it! It was fun to share my experiences with him and he would help me a lot with knowing how to be a better head teacher.
"We got into this cheesy habit of asking each other questions from a list of '276 questions' we found on the internet, and between that and sharing what we were working on or experiencing at the time, we saw each other in every situation imaginable. (I think he maybe saw me ready for the day twice in 4 months--one of the many ways I knew he was a keeper.)"
Were you able to talk to him often?
"Pretty much every night, once our evening activities were over. (With a few exceptions: It was important to me that I put the girls in my group and my responsibilities first, so while Austin was a big priority for me, if a movie night was happening with the group, I'd reschedule our Face-Time dates and Austin was always really supportive of that.)
"My friend in the group, the one who was already engaged, would come into my room around 10 and go out onto my balcony to talk to her guy while I talked to mine. It was some good bonding time that resulted with a lot of inside jokes."
Did you enjoy your semester even though you were apart?
"Oh I loved it!! It made it better than had I not been dating him! Of everything that semester, it's what stretched me the most and taught me the most. In general, it's hard to not love an experience like this one. The kids there changed my life, the girls in my group became life-long friends, and I fell in love with Romania all over again."
Now that it's over, are you glad you did it?
"110% yes and I think about it often. Although I wasn't planning on it before I left, we ended up becoming unofficially-engaged about halfway through my semester abroad. We set a date and everything. I had received confirmations and experiences that taught me what the right path for me was in ways that I couldn't deny. We got engaged officially about a week after I came home! Crazy. It was a continuously humbling and exciting experience! Along with my mission and my first ILP experience, it prepared me for my future life, career, and family more than anything else ever could."
Any advice for someone thinking about going that has a significant other?
"Do it! It will teach you great relationship skills that you weren't even aware you needed to work on. Communication is so key and we didn't even think communication was something we needed to work on, but we learned how to communicate with each other about EVERYTHING and we use those skills every day of our lives!
"Austin says his advice is to remember that the frustration you may feel is at the situation (ex: bad connection, hard to hear, short Face-Time dates) and not at the person you love. When you don't want to express your feelings, that's especially when you need to talk about it!
"Only you, your partner, and God knows the path you two need to take, and it's so crucial to trust that. If you choose to date seriously and long-distance, know that only good things can come from it if you choose to take advantage of the opportunity. It's clarifying, strengthening, and more fun than you'd ever expect. Just enjoy the really gritty process that it is and laugh all the way through it."
First hand advice from someone who has already done it. Who knows, if all of this works out for you, you could possible volunteer with your spouse in the future.