Column: International love at BYU-I

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Damon and Valentina taking their engagement pictures Photo credit: Valentina Fres

I’m a Chilean who met my American husband while serving a mission and got engaged after four months in the U.S.

When some people hear this statement, they assume many things, such as, “she was probably only interested in living in the U.S.,” or “they met on their mission, so they probably ‘opened’ their hearts to each other while they were there,” or “she was desperate,” etc.

I have heard many critiques during our marriage, some from American people, and some from Chileans. Many of these critiques made our marriage harder, but they ultimately changed me as a person in a positive way, and made me love my husband even more.

Since I was a kid, I always wanted to come to the U.S. to study at a Church school. I planned to come to the U.S. before meeting my husband. After my mission, I accomplished that goal and a month later, my husband and I met again at a mission reunion where we connected. The rest is history.

Along with all the beautiful experiences my husband and I had, I learned that an international marriage carries some burdens that try to divide us.

Cultural Differences

Adapting to the American culture was challenging. I struggled with the language during my first years of marriage. My husbandstruggled learning more about my culture.

Two different languages in one household can be a little crazy. Even though we both spoke each others’ native language, the way we said things were confusing. For example, it was hard for my husband to understand that I was more straightforward when I spoke.

When I spoke in Spanish, my straightforward comments sounded funny and clear, but when I said straightforward comments in English, it sounded rude.

On the other hand, It was hard for me to understand my husband’s sense of humor because some jokes did not make sense to me.

Many times our patience was on edge. It required a lot of understanding to learn each other’s differences.

Stereotypes

When I married my husband, I had to interact with more Americans. Some of them assumed that I came from poverty. I thought, “Do Americans know how expensive it is to come to the U.S. legally?”

According to the financial information on International Service web page, studying at BYU-Idaho requires an international student to have $37,850 a year for school only, not including textbooks, housing and food.

Other people assumed that I liked tamales, tacos and spicy food in general and some would ask me what part of Mexico Chile was in.

Every Hispanic country is different and each has different forms of communication, food, accents and culture. Not every Hispanic looks the same either. There are many different races all over Latin America.

Stereotypes made me feel like I lacked value. My self-esteem broke entirely and I began to isolate myself from others. This issue affected my marriage negatively because my desire to interact with some of my husband’s friends decreased.

Legal Issues

After I married an American, I had to apply for permanent residency, a Green Card. Foreigners who don’t apply for permanent residency can’t study, work or drive. This legal procedure is financially, psychologically and emotionally exhausting.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the legal procedure to apply for permanent residency costs $2,085. Along with this application fee, foreigners have to pass a screening check and medical examination with varying prices depending on the doctor.

When my husband and I applied for my permanent residency the first time, the Immigration Services rejected one page of the document and made us pay the $2,085 again. It took us almost three years to receive my permanent residency.

After our marriage, I felt like the world was against us. It was hard to understand each other when we had cultural differences, stereotypes, critiques, financial concerns and legal issues on our backs.

Many times I asked myself, “Was it worth it to marry someone from another country?”

The answer to that is, yes! It is 100% worth it. Our marriage had burdens that we learned to relieve by staying strong during the storms and by loving each other unconditionally.

My husband and I adapted to our circumstances. We started our own culture. We began speaking Spanglish every day and enjoying learning from and teaching words to each other.

One day I tried to say “bellybutton” to my husband and I mixed the word bellybutton and lullaby, so instead, I said “lellybuh.” These cute moments filled our lives with joy because they made simple things funny.

The challenges we had as a young, international couple united us more. Instead of trying to change ourselves to fit each other’s life, we embraced, respected and learned to love each other’s culture.

Critiques were always there, but we learned not to listen to them and focused our minds on our own lives. There will be many people in the world who focus on stereotypes, but that is their own decision.

No matter what happens in our lives, my husband and I have learned to fight them together.

Life as an international couple is not easy, but when there is love, nothing can stop you from making it work.