Picture this: You just met your partner, excited to start a new relationship. But they are ready to leave the country in four months.
You’ve barely gotten to know them. Doubts and fears begin to run through your mind as you ask yourself: do long distance relationships work?
That was the case for Ashvin Praveen Karunakaran and Lizzie Tan, who met at the Goethe-Institut Malaysia. This institute prepares students who aspire to study in Germany.
Wanting to study in Germany, Lizzie was there to get a certification that would show she can speak German.
“That’s where I met Ashvin. He came from Sarawak to learn German as well because that was his backup plan at the time,” she says.
“His first plan was to go to the UK. If that doesn’t work, Germany would be second.”
Love at first sight
Although her classes were at different times, Ashvin worked as a part-time receptionist for the institute. This allowed him to catch Lizzie when she arrived early to get ready for class.
He was attracted by her eyes and her mysterious atmosphere. “She didn’t really talk much. But I could see that she is a very hard worker, ”he says.
To Lizzie, it was how patient and kind he really sounded when handling customer inquiries. “Since he’s the receptionist, I often hear him on calls,” she says.
“From the way he talks to clients and staff at the center, (I can see) he is very friendly and soft-spoken. When she talks to clients, she is very patient,” she says.
Soon, they exchanged contacts, began hanging out outside of the German center, and learned more about their targets.
By this time, Ashvin had been awarded a partial scholarship to study mechanical engineering at the University of Sheffield.
Lizzie knew that a long distance relationship was inevitable. They would be separated by three years, four if Ashvin continued with a master’s program.
Maintaining an LDR: The Art of Communication
They continue to attend German classes during the week, which gave them plenty of time to be in each other’s company.
What also helped was that they spent more time talking, rather than mindlessly going through a list of activities.
“That laid a good foundation because you don’t build a relationship around going places and doing things together. Getting enough of that conversation helped a lot,” shares Ashvin.
Soon, Lizzie left for Germany for six months before switching to study psychology at HELP University in Malaysia.
Ashvin headed for Sheffield. He made the most of his time there, joining various student organizations and pursuing many passion projects.
Despite everything, they spoke. Constantly.
“Managing my time as an international student and a relationship was difficult,” says the mechanical engineering graduate.
“We reserve calendars for this time slot and we have to check the time zones. She also had classes from morning to afternoon and I had classes from morning to afternoon in the UK.
He adds: “With Netflix Party, we could watch movies together. Sometimes we have dinner together virtually, but we cook our own stuff.”
Create an agency together more than 10,000 kilometers from home
Looking back on the LDR of three years, Ashvin shares how distance helped him better understand his partner.
“When you meet someone in person, you don’t necessarily talk to them while eating or driving. On a video call, it’s rare to do anything else or get distracted. In a sense, you have to talk,” she says.
As time went by, their relationship became more stable. It allowed them to delve into their common interests, which led them to form Whacked, a content-driven social media agency.
“When I was in the Malaysia branch (of iCube) and he was in the UK branch, we had a lot of events that brought the two countries together,” says Lizzie.
iCUBE is a student-run, not-for-profit organization that fosters entrepreneurship and innovation among Malaysian students in the UK, Ireland, US and Australia.
“Through this, we developed more common interests in startups, business, and marketing,” says Lizzie. “When our tenures at iCube ended, we decided to work together independently. At that time, my design skills were good and he was into video editing.”
Currently, Ashvin and Lizzie lead a team of seven helping business leaders connect with their audience on LinkedIn through relatable content.
Most of his clientele is in finance. Whacked helps them by creating content and spreading awareness about how the social media platform could boost their brands.
Ask them for advice on how to maintain an LDR and they will tell you: communicate, communicate, communicate.
“Establish what you agree with and what you don’t agree with before starting an LDR,” says Ashvin.
“Be flexible enough to talk and understand things on the other side during the LDR.”