Imagine this: you just met your partner, excited to start a new relationship. But they’re set to leave the country in four months.
You’ve barely gotten to know them. Doubts and fears start running through your mind as you wonder: do long distance relationships work?
That was the case for Ashvin Praveen Karunakaran and Lizzie Tan, who first met at 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 proving 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 didn’t work out, Germany would be second.”
Love at first sight
While their classes were at different times, Ashvin worked as a part-time receptionist for the institute. This let him catch Lizzie when she arrived early to prepare for class.
He was drawn to her eyes and her mysterious vibe. “She didn’t really talk much. But I could see that she’s very hardworking,” he says.
For Lizzie, it was how he sounded really patient and kind to when managing customers enquiries. “Since he’s the receptionist, I often hear him on calls,” she says.
“From the way he talks to customers and staff at the centre, [I can see] that he is very kind and soft-spoken. When he speaks to customers, he’s very patient,” she says.
Soon, they exchanged contacts, started hanging out outside the German centre, and learned more about their goals.
At this point, Ashvin had secured a partial scholarship to study mechanical engineering at the University of Sheffield.
Lizzie knew a long distance relationship was inevitable. They would be apart for three years, four if Ashvin continued with a master’s programme.
Maintaining an LDR: The art of communication
They continue going to German classes on the weekdays, which gave them plenty of time to be in each other’s company.
What also helped was that they spent more time talking, instead of mindlessly going through a list of activities.
“That laid a good foundation because you don’t build a relationship around going to places and doing things together. Having enough of that conversation helped a lot,” Ashvin shares.
Soon, Lizzie was off to Germany for six months before switching to studying psychology at HELP University in Malaysia.
Ashvin headed to Sheffield. He made the most of his time there, joining various student organisations and pursuing many passion projects.
Despite everything, they talked. Constantly.
“Managing my time as an international student and a relationship was difficult,” says the mechanical engineering graduate.
“We would book each other calendars for this time slot and we have to check across time zones. She also had classes from morning until afternoon and I’d have classes from morning until late afternoon in the UK.”
He adds: “With Netflix Party, we could watch movies together. Sometimes, we have meals together virtually, but we would cook our own stuff.”
Starting an agency together over 10,000 kilometres away from home
Looking back on the three-year LDR, Ashvin shares how the distance helped him to understand his partner better.
“When meeting someone in person, you wouldn’t necessarily talk to them while they are eating or driving. In a video call, it’s weird to do something else or be distracted. In a sense, you have to talk,” he says.
As time passed, their relationship became more stable. It allowed them to dive deeper into their common interests — which led to them forming Whacked, a content-driven social media agency.
“When I was in the Malaysian branch [of iCube] and he was in the UK branch, we had a lot of events that brought both countries together,” Lizzie says.
iCUBE is a non-profit student-led organisation that encourages entrepreneurship and innovation amongst Malaysian students in the UK, Ireland, the US, and Australia.
“Through this, we developed more common interests in startups, business, and marketing,” says Lizzie. “When both our iCube tenures ended, we decided to work together on a freelance basis. At the time, my design skills were good and he was into video editing.”
Today, Ashvin and Lizzie lead a team of seven, helping business leaders connect with their audience on LinkedIn through relatable content.
Most of their clientele are in finance. Whacked helps them by creating content and spreading awareness on how the social media platform could boost their brands.
Ask them for advice on how to maintain an LDR and they’ll say: communicate, communicate, communicate.
“Establish what you are okay with and what you are not with prior to starting an LDR,” says Ashvin.
“Be flexible enough to talk it out and understand things on each other’s side during the LDR.”