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Love on the Run

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By Kathleen Micham

Published May 12, 2009 8:48 AM


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It's easy to fall in love while studying abroad, especially in the city of love: Molly Hirsh '07 and Eric Stevens '07 — pictured above on a bridge overlooking Paris' Seine river, just after getting engaged — met on a UCLA summer Travel Study program in Paris.

It's commonplace to fall in love with a country you're visiting for the first time. Unfamiliar sights, sounds, and flavors can make any traveler swoon. For Bruins who choose to spend a significant chunk of time abroad for their studies, it's just as common to fall in love with a person as it is to fall in love with a place.

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More love and relationship stories from UCLA Magazine. In Split on Sex, we ask whether Americans are looser about sex than ever, or bigger prudes than ever, and find the answer is "both." In Campus Coupling, find out how UCLA students think about sex in 2009 from a recent grad who created a sex-ed site, and from a campus sex columnist. With Dispatches From Dating Hell, take a break from worrying about your own sex life with a whole blog about the Worst. Dates. Ever. In IMing Your Way to Love, we learn which sweet nothings to type in instant messages. Love is Blind tells us that thinking mushy thoughts about your sweetie makes the relationship stronger. No, really, it's scientifically proven.

A webpage called "8 things Americans do when they study abroad in Europe" lists falling in love right alongside learning to use public transportation and seeking out American food as common experiences. Things aren't very different on other continents.

Val Rust, faculty adviser to the International Education Office (IEO) at UCLA (and someone who met his wife abroad), says that people fall in love away from home because they're separated from their families and regular milieu. They are far away from the people and things that define them so they are more open to different sorts of people.

Marriell Marquette, international student service coordinator in UCLA's IEO and a veteran of international travel, lists several other reasons that people fall in love while studying abroad.

First, it's a great way to learn a language, she says.

"Dating a native while studying abroad is one of the best ways to learn the language and be integrated into the society. You're much more likely to study your vocabulary words when you have someone to impress other than your 60-year-old grammar teacher," Marquette explains. "You will also get an opportunity to meet the family and friends of your new flame who will push you to speak more than you would otherwise."

Conversely, not knowing the language very well may make students seek out and fall in love with other Americans.

Study abroad also tends to be a very social time, according to Marquette. Students are eager to explore a new city or a new country and may spend more time in social situations than they do when they're at home. They spend evenings in bars and weekends on trains.

Finally, Marquette emphasized that study abroad makes you vulnerable and thus more susceptible to falling in love.

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Molly Hirsh '07 and her fiancé, Eric Stevens '07, took their engagement photos on campus after fate brought them together in Paris. Photo courtesy Del Rio Studios.

"Being away from family and friends while in a foreign country can often leave you feeling lonely," she says. "Getting close to someone can create a feeling of comfort that can quickly blossom into love."

Of course, studying together immediately creates a common interest, which was the case when UCLA alumna Jenny Kim '04, J.D. '07 met her boyfriend on an Education Abroad Program to Korea. They're both bicultural Americans and had similar reactions to their stay in Korea.

"We both love Korean culture and being in Korea gave us an opportunity to easily travel to many parts of the country," she explains. "I think exploring Korea together brought us closer to each other and to our culture."

Molly Hirsh '07 first met her fiancé, Eric Stevens '07 at an orientation session on campus for Professor Teo Ruiz's summer Travel Study program in Paris. Both went and, separately for the most part, appreciated the lifestyle. They did not become a couple until after they returned to neighboring apartment buildings in Westwood, where they set about trying to recreate their enchanting French experience.

"Life in Paris is so centered around pleasure, happiness and the observance of the small, wonderful things," Hirsh says.

This love story has a happy ending as well as an exotic locale. Inspired partly by the expressed hope of Professor Ruiz that each of his students could return to Paris with a loved one, Stevens invited Hirsh back to Paris — where he proposed to her just outside of the Vert Galant, a grassy park next to Pont Neuf, the city's iconic bridge over the Seine river.

As you may have guessed, she said yes.

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