Bone Voyage: The Très Stupide Hookups You Only Have While Studying Abroad
Illustration by Grace Wilson


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Bone Voyage: The Très Stupide Hookups You Only Have While Studying Abroad

The first rule of having sex when you're a foreign student is to look up the word for "condom" before you leave the house.

When I studied abroad in Paris my sophomore spring of college, I had an arrangement with a man I'll call Guillaume. We would meet for coffee, those petite European ones that make you feel like a giantess to sip, and speak for 30 minutes in English and then 30 minutes in French. His English was really bad, but he was ten years older than I was, and I found that thrilling. For the third meeting, we moved to a bar and reverted to just French. We drank a few Kronenbourgs and chatted about Sarkozy—I remember singing 15 seconds of a Carla Bruni song to prove some point—before he walked to the door of my homestay and politely asked for a blowjob in the sharpest English I'd ever heard from him. (Foreign boys often shine linguistically when they're asking for a sex thing.)


As I wasn't close enough with my host mother to bring home a strange man—we had been feuding ever since she walked into my bedroom and found actual smears of Nutella on the walls—I suggested we faire une promenade. We wandered two blocks to the Montparnasse Cemetery, where we more than made out adjacent to Jean-Paul Sartre's grave. Hell is other people, I'd think, passing the cemetery on my way to class for the rest of the semester. I never saw Guillaume again, but this was not the tragedy; when you're in a foreign country, you expect to lose people as fast as you meet them. The tragedy was that Nutella does not come out of walls.

Read more: 'Platonically' Sleeping in the Same Bed with Someone: Probably Cheating

The study abroad hookup is not the reason you spend a semester away, but it's integral to the experience. When I was studying in Paris, I didn't have any friends who had significant others at home. While one could argue that this might say more about me and the circles I run in than the culture of study abroad, I don't think so. Semester at Sea, for example, is apparently a total fuck fest, but so is a semester at anywhere. It's the timing, not the place, that matters most—you're 20-ish and just getting the hang of doggy style. Studying abroad also has the effect of loosening your standards: You might not fuck a guy with perfectly manicured eyebrows in New Haven, but in Florence? Si. You'd be celibate if you stuck to your usual dating requirements, like "doesn't have kids" or "only wears track suits in private." People say you're not truly fluent in a language until you dream in it, and I say you're not truly living in a place until you have someone you can text "que faiS-tu …." at 1:30 AM.


Heidi* studied abroad with me in Paris, and she managed to secure an ideal temporary relationship while there. "I remember thinking, Man, whoever his girlfriend is, she's lucky,'" Heidi said of locking eyes with Julien on the metro. "We both got off at the same stop, and I hurried past him—I think because I wanted him to see me again. I got outside and saw him walking up to me. He said in French that he was meeting his friends to go bowling somewhere, but was lost—a total lie—and asked if he could look at my map if I had one. I did, he looked it up, and then said something like, 'I'd like to get together with you sometime.'"

Heidi and Julien texted for a bit before meeting up—he teasingly called her "Miss America," because paramours abroad are required to give you a nickname. At the end of their first date, a Jim Carrey exposition at the Cinématèque Francaise, they kissed on a bridge. On the second date, they slept together, and after that, they were dating-dating.

"There was no murky hookups or the are we or aren't we bullshit that I had been so accustomed to. No conversation about like, 'Do you want to be my boyfriend/girlfriend?' or anything like that. We just were…" she said. "I think I loved being with him partially because he was older, on his own, and was so different from the gangly, less mature college guys that made up the pool of people I had previously been hooking up with." They were together for the rest of the semester, and five months after. Back at college in New England, she broke up with Julien over Skype.


Photo by Bisual Studio via Stocksy

Jenna*, who studied abroad in Buenos Aires in the fall of 2010, found herself a temporary boyfriend as well, though her relationship was mostly rooted in sex; the thrill of having a consistent hookup, especially one with an accent, is universal and uniquely accessible when you're living in a country as a fun Novelty American.

"My study abroad boyfriend was a perfectly nice guy, but the circumstances of our hookups always made me feel strange," she said. "In Argentina it's normal for young adults to live with their parents well into their 20s. As a result, these hookup hotels called telos emerged to create spaces for horny teens to fuck without their parents walking in. Essentially, you show up, pay for the room, have sex, and leave. Thankfully, my Argentine man candy had good taste in telos, so we never went anywhere that was really skeezy. However, the first time we hooked up, we went to one that had a heart-shaped jacuzzi and only had porn playing on the TV."

The sex was great, so Jenna kept seeing him, though she eventually insisted on "looking for accommodations that did not have heart-shaped furniture."

While this all sounds like prime fodder for funny anecdotes upon your senior-year return stateside, the study abroad hookup also presents genuine danger, even/especially if it feels fun and low-stakes at the time. Locking down a routine, reliable hookup—who you know would have murdered you right away if any part of them wanted to—is the ideal, as Heidi and Jenna found.


When Rebecca* studied in Paris the summer after her sophomore year, she barely knew any French. Her linguistic handicap made finding dudes difficult, and as a black woman, she was often on the receiving end of frustrating come-ons and catcalls. ("You're pretty for a black girl," was one, she said. "I do know that in the mode of Josephine Baker, there's still this fetishism of black women [in France], so I definitely felt uncomfortable from time to time.")

Foreign boys often shine linguistically when they're asking for a sex thing.

One night at a bar she met Pierre, a strapping 28-year-old rugby player, despite each and every odd. (His English was as minimal as her French.) She then proceeded to have her "dumbest," highest-risk hookup ever.

As the night progressed, Pierre bought her more drinks, and eventually he asked her if she wanted to come home with him. He said he lived near the Eiffel Tower, which wasn't too far from where she was staying. Rebecca was getting over a breakup, so she decided, "What happens in Paris, right?"

But soon they weren't in Paris.

"As the cab starts moving, I notice we're going farther and farther into the countryside," Rebecca said. "Far from seeing the Eiffel Tower, I start to see mountains I've never seen before, and I can't even see the city. I keep asking him if we're close, and he keeps saying almost. I start thinking to myself, This is EXACTLY how American girls go missing abroad. No one knows where I am. I don't know where I am."


At 3 AM, they finally made it to Pierre's house.

"We start hooking up, and then I realize I don't know how to say condom in French. Not even an educated guess. And you can bet I didn't have international data enabled. So I essentially pantomimed rolling a condom onto his junk, and he goes, 'Un préservatif?'"

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They spent the night having sex, and in the morning, Rebecca learned that Pierre lived with both his parents, as well as his older sister and her infant child. They had slept all night right next door—very classically French.

Rebecca tried to sneak out before the family realized she was there, but they made her stay for breakfast and conversation far beyond what her intro-level French had prepared her for.

"Here I am, sitting at the breakfast table with his entire family, wearing a mini-dress under one of his hoodies, a pair of athletic shorts, and my heels from the night before. And his mom is just happily talking to me in French, asking me my political opinions, and his dad is asking me what I study. And I'm just so hungover that I keep nodding and smiling and my smudged mascara rings bloodshot eyes and my fake eyelashes are hanging on by a thread." After breakfast, Pierre drove her back to the city, giving her "dumbest hookup ever" with a pleasant, violence-free resolution.

It's worth mentioning that some women don't have any sex when they study abroad—"I studied abroad in India and pooped my pants for four months and had literally no sex," one friend told me—but this is probably not the norm. Even if you don't enjoy a rendezvous in your country-away-from-home, the fuck-fest mentality travels with you when you take those 29-euro Ryanair flights to all the towns Ryanair goes to. When I went to Prague for a weekend to visit a friend, I met an Australian man at a five-story club, which inevitably led to hooking up under a bridge by the Vltava River, not too far from some soundly sleeping homeless men. That morning, wearing a beige bandage mini dress and muddy black heels, I joined the flocks of sharp-suited Czech commuters as they went to work and I tried to find the dormitory my friend was staying in. Hoping she knew I was alive, I stopped to eat a seeded pretzel in an underground bakery. I'll never get to be that dumb again.

*Names have been changed.