Saturday, February 28, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Jocelyn & John

Jocelyn writes an amazing blog - Speaking of China - and lives in China with her wonderful husband, John...

My name is Jocelyn Eikenburg. I’m a white American with a lot of different European nationalities in my background (French, Scottish, English, Swedish, Italian, German, Croatian and even ones I’ll never know because my grandmother was adopted). I've often joked with friends about being a white “mutt”. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and now live in Hangzhou, China, which is also my husband’s home region.

Three words that describe you...
Determined, creative, romantic. 

Favorite childhood memory...
Standing at the rim of Bryce Canyon in Utah with my parents, gazing upon the celestial beauty of the Milky Way and an endless night sky filled with stars. It was definitely a “wow!” moment that I'll never forget. 

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
My husband is a huge inspiration for me in so many ways – from my writing to my blog to even my business. Some of my greatest ideas have come out of conversations with him, often while we’re walking together in the woods or the park. Plus, he has an extraordinary talent for cheering me up when I’m feeling a little down! I feel fortunate to have married someone who inspires me in some way every single day...

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
We started out as an office romance, actually! Once upon a time, we were coworkers in the same company. He was a translator and I used to proofread his work. We collaborated fantastically back then, as we still do now. ;-)

How long have you been together?
Over 12 and a half years! Last year, we just celebrated being married for 10 years

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
I really admire his shining optimism. He’s the kind of guy who doesn't take “no” for an answer about anything. He’s incredibly idealistic, he believes in dreams, and he never gives up. He also generous to a fault and extraordinarily kind. And on top of that, he makes me laugh and smile all the time!

Favorite memory together as a couple...
Our first kiss beside the West Lake. It was a sultry summer night when the bats were dipping and swaying over the surface of the lake and the cicadas hummed in the background. We were sitting on a bench side by side, just talking, and then out of nowhere, he asked if he could kiss me. And wow....was it magic!

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
By the time we met, I had already lived in China for two years, so I was pretty accustomed to the rhythm of life in his country, including the culture. During that time, I had studied Mandarin Chinese, so when he and I started dating, we were actually able to converse together in Chinese and English, setting a foundation for the bilingual relationship we still enjoy

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship?
John wasn't my first boyfriend in China, so friends and family back in the US weren't surprised to learn about our relationship. Everybody was really supportive about my decision to date him, as well as my decision to marry him. In fact, for our first wedding anniversary (which we spent in China) relatives from the US sent us countless greeting cards congratulating us on that important day. It was really heartwarming to experience that support from so far away. 

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
One of the most enlightening (but also unfortunate) things about my relationship was experiencing racism and discrimination for myself. Before I met John, I knew these problems existed in the US. But being with John helped me understand how they actually play out in the real world, and want to do my part to raise awareness of these issues and fight for justice. 

Who proposed and how?
He did, over a long-distance phone call! I was working in Taipei for a couple of months and he would call me during the evenings from Shanghai. And this one night, he came right out and asked me to marry him. I didn't hesitate – YES!

On top of that, he also drafted this sweet little love poem for me, which he sent to my e-mail. I still have a copy of it and every time I read it, it makes me blush in the best possible way. 

Describe your wedding...
It was definitely a “big red Chinese wedding”! Imagine a huge whirlwind summer wedding in the midst of the sweltering July heat, with over 150 guests, three dresses and a full day of waltzing around town followed by a loud and sumptuous banquet in the evening. It was actually kind of exhausting too (I ended up losing my voice the day of the wedding!). But as imperfect as it all was, I loved it in the end. Without his family’s support, we never could have had such a big and beautiful wedding day. I still cherish the photos and memories of the day. 

What does being married mean to you?
It’s a partnership. You might say I inherited that from my own parents. They walked through their marriage together as equals, supporting each other in work, family and achieving their own dreams, and that’s what I've always wanted in my marriage. I’m fortunate to have found a husband who wants the same thing – a man who wants his wife to succeed as much as he does.

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
We’re kind of at a turning point in our lives (which also makes it difficult for me to publicly share some of our current dreams and plans). That said, my husband and I have always had this dream of touring Italy together, especially since he’s a huge fan of the Italian soccer league. Besides, who doesn't love Italy? One of these days, he and I will be sitting somewhere in a stadium in Milan, clinking glasses together as we celebrate finally making our travel dreams a reality. 

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
One of my uncles told us to always cherish each other. It’s good advice for anyone in your family, but especially a spouse (one that I love very much).

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
My parents taught me self-reliance, and I've definitely brought that to my relationship – just the sense that it’s important to work hard and take care of the things that you can in your life. 

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?
We flirt almost every single day, often like teenagers, and it makes every day fun! We also try to spend quality time together during the week, whether that’s taking walks in the park or watching movies. And sometimes we’ll do simple but loving things for each other, like I might give John a foot massage or he might make me breakfast. 

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
I love drinking loose-leaf green tea now, and I was raised on the bagged kind as a kid. I like wearing slippers indoors. When it comes to dinner, my stomach feels so much better when I've had white rice with my meal!

I also have to admit, the color red was always a favorite of mine, but since marrying John – who comes from a culture where red is the most auspicious color – he gives me even more reasons to put it on!

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
My parents have really come to embrace Chinese New Year. Last time we celebrated with them, they bought red couplets for their doorway (which are traditionally hung at the new year) and even a gorgeous red tablecloth to go along with our huge Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner.

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
In China, marriage and children go hand in hand, and that’s something that’s a challenge for me to accept. We don’t have kids right now and people – especially relatives – pressure us about it at times. 

I am a rabid nonsmoker and definitely struggle with things like family members (generally men) smoking around the table. That would never happen in the US! Sometimes I've had to just leave tables mid-meal because I can’t take the secondhand smoke. 

And speaking of smoking, that often goes hand-in-hand with over-drinking, which is another thing I don’t particularly embrace here. There’s a very aggressive drinking culture here among men, and I've seen people in our family get so drunk they had to be carted off to the hospital! It scares me! But fortunately, my husband agrees with me on this one (and even uses the fact that he has a foreign wife as a “get out of drinking” card!). 

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
One time when I was living with my in-laws for a summer, a neighbor came over with her grandson and the little boy was aggressively batting at this mobile we used for my sister-in-law’s new baby daughter. I knew the baby loved that mobile and of course didn't want it to be destroyed by a careless one-year-old boy. So I said something about it to them; the grandmother looked embarrassed and left soon afterwards. Then I learned from my in-laws that it’s not polite to tell guests not to do something in your house (even if, apparently, they’re potentially breaking your stuff!)

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
When we first moved together to the US, without a doubt. The two of us were both struggling to find our place in America at exactly the same time, but in totally different ways, and it led to some really difficult times for us (reflecting on this inspired a post about the 7 Challenges After Moving from China to America with your Chinese Spouse). Looking back, I’m just grateful we overcame it all!

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
The best part is having a relationship that can span two cultures. Being with John has enlightened me in so many ways and expanded how I see the world. I’m grateful for that. The worst part is that a LOT of people out there will not understand you or your relationship, especially if (like me) your choice is quite nontraditional – and sometimes, they won’t be so polite about it...

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
That intercultural relationships can never work. While culture and language are important and never should be overlooked in a marriage/relationship, I think your relationship – as in, who you’re married to – matters a lot when it comes to whether you’ll stay together. 

What are the biggest misconceptions about American women? 
A lot of people here in China assume we’re sluts who like to sleep around – which of course, also means we’re definitely not marriage material (or, on the flip side, we’re just home wreckers). 

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
When I lived in America, I definitely did, but a lot of it was very subtle. Like when I would speak to my husband in Mandarin Chinese in public places, people might shoot me dirty looks. Or just the way I’d see someone staring at us in the grocery store or something. In these cases, we just had to ignore it and move on with our lives. 

The most blatant comments I've heard have been through my website, including how a racist hate group once linked to my blog as an example of the “growing threat” to whites. It made me sick to my stomach, but also a little scared to think that I was on their radar, so to speak. I remember discussing it with some of my friends, but ultimately made the decision not to post publicly about it (as I did not wish to give the group any additional attention). I just continue to blog about the AMWF community and interracial/cross-cultural couples, which I think is a great way to fight back.

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
I think reciprocity can go a long way in smoothing out some of the most difficult cultural clashes. My husband and I once clashed about what to put on the table, because I’m a vegan and he still loves his meat every now and then. In the end, we compromised by having dinners that might involve my favorite vegan treats and his favorite Chinese-style meats. (I even learned how to cook all sorts of meats, like Chinese red-braised pork, all out of love for him.) I've discovered that sometimes the smallest kindnesses in a marriage can lead to the greatest goodwill between two people, and help the two of you safely overcome a lot of misunderstandings (cultural or otherwise).

(All photos courtesy of Speaking of China)


  1. Wow, ten years. Congrats and many more returns. I have to say it though it's probably said many times before, your wedding dress just looks elegant
    And you said it very well, it really matters who, as in what type of person you are together with much more then the cultural background.
    Ah, I think I'm off to reading the blog.

  2. Great interview! I love the story of "how they met," and the perils of disciplining the poorly behaved neighbor kid in China. As part of an AMWF couple, I was sad to read about the hate group and the hate mail. So glad Jocelyn is still blogging, though.

    A 150 guest wedding banquet!!! I must go find that blog and the one on living in the US with a Chinese husband.

  3. So wonderful to read such beautiful and heartwarming stories.


  4. It's a cute interview, Jocelyn.

    I agree, I think it's smart not to mention about the hate group because that is exactly what they would have wanted. They don't deserve the time of day, honestly.


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