Saturday, March 5, 2016

My Intercultural Love: Elisabeth & Pocho

Elisabeth writes an amazing blog about living between two cultures and raising her children bilingually!

I'm Elisabeth, from North Carolina, and married to Alfonso (Pocho) from Peru. We now live in the U.S. with our two children. 

Three words that describe you...
Creative, kind, thinker.

Favorite childhood memory...
We grew up on books. Though we never traveled outside the U.S., I felt like the entire world was open to me because our family life was full of stories. I had six brothers and sisters, and we were homeschooled most of the way. For us this meant that school was efficient and usually over before lunch - and after stretched out delicious hours to do what we wanted. Most days, that meant either playing outside or curled up with book we could hardly put down. My mom would read aloud to us daily, too, while we sketched or did puzzles. Those sorts of days - simple, wonderful - were my favorite. 

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
I am a teacher, and love the light bulb moments in myself, my students, or my kids. When we solve a problem or somethings finally "clicks", I feel the creativity to my toes - and that's when I feel inspired. It could be a students learning a new word or my baby taking a first step. I love those times. 

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
After college, I moved to the Peruvian jungle to teach English. I stayed with Pocho's family my first year, who frequently hosted young people. There were often teachers and volunteers moving in and out, and he and I became good friends. I wrote out the entire story here!

How long have you been together?
We met nine years ago, and have been married for 6 years.

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
Pocho is always kind and steady. He is a hard worker who never feels the need to prove himself, complain, or brag. I have often wished for that kind of confidence and security!....

Favorite memory together as a couple...
I do sometimes miss our careless days on motorcycles in the jungle and eating plantains in the market, back when we were dating. 

But the best memory was last year when we bought a house together. Prior to that, we'd rented and then lived in my parent's basement for two years while we sorted out jobs and unpaid maternity leaves. Holding the keys to our own home was an amazing feeling. We had both sacrificed and worked really hard - together

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
I lived in Moyobamba, his hometown, for two years, so I knew the culture pretty well. I learned Spanish and lived with Peruvian families, and really grew to love the city and the culture. Of course there were still surprises once we actually got married and started a life together (you think WHAT?), but I am really grateful I got to live there so long. 

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship?
We started dating in Peru, and it wasn't really unexpected to our friends there. Actually, at the time we had several friends just starting their own intercultural relationships (all married now: Peruvian-Scottish and Peruvian-French), and it made for fun double-dates. 

I had to let my friends and family know by email or phone here in the U.S. and everyone was affirming. When I told my parents we were engaged my Dad said, "Well, if we don't like him, we'll learn to!" I think that was his way of saying they trusted me and would eager to support us, even if it would be an adjustment. 

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
Our memories from living in and being together in Peru still affect us now. It's helpful to know there are other ways of doing things, and we like to take the best of both cultures in creating our own family culture. 

For me personally, it has opened my eyes to the struggles immigrants face when they get here and my respect for them has grown tremendously! I remember when we were first married the huge learning curve Pocho faced. Even things like putting gas in the car or using a credit card were totally new. 

Who proposed and how?
Dating and weddings can be so weird when you are working around international bureaucracy and visas. We had only been dating for about 5 months when my teaching contract was up and I was going to return to the States. Chances were slim he could come visit me, and out of the blue on New Year's Eve, Pocho turned to me and asked if I wanted to get married. 

I was really thrown off: was this a proposal? Or was he checking to see how serious we were? We call it the first proposal now, that strange "Ok, so you're leaving the country... I know we just started dating, but what's our plan here?" I said yes and told people at home we were planning to marry each other, but didn't use the word engaged yet.

I went back to spend the summer five months later, when he proposed at dinner with a ring.

Describe your wedding...
Pocho applied for a tourist visa to come meet my family, but was denied. So we applied for a fiance visa in September, not knowing how long it would take. By November it was approved! Between paperwork and my older brother's impending deployment, we had to set the date for December. I had a month to find us a rental and plan our wedding - and introduce my fiance to my family. 

Pocho only had a week or two to pack everything into a couple of suitcases, say good-bye to family and friends, and fly here. He barely spoke a word of English, and was left to get to know my family and friends as best he could while rushed about like a madwoman getting the wedding in order after teaching all day. 

The day of the wedding arrived, a cold day the week before Christmas. It never snows here in December but that day it did! My fresh-from-the-jungle husband experienced his first snowfall just as the ceremony started. We were married in a sweet old country church with huge windows and decked out for Christmas. The ceremony was a mix of Spanish and English, and beautiful. The snow basically ruined our poor reception, though, as the food was late, and everyone was leaving in southern panic over the quickly piling snow. 

What does being married mean to you?
It means being bound together - by promises, by love, by God - for richer or poor, sickness and health, and all the rest. We probably entered into marriage naively, like most people do. 

There is a lot of joy, and fun, and comfort from being spouses. Marriage also means putting the good of the other person first. It is amazing to know my husband is doing this for me too - I watch him show his love all the time, as he puts our needs above his own.

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
We would love for my blog and TpT store to keep growing so I can be home more. Pocho would love to go back to school and work in an IT-related field. We would both love to live in Peru for a while, or at least be able to spend summers there!

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
The best advice came from our pastor, referencing a book by psychologist Larry Crabb. He talked about distinguishing between goals and desires. A lot of things that are actually desires (I want feel loved, I want my spouse to do such-and-such) are healthy, but they aren't actually goals: things I can control. The only things I can control is what I put into the marriage. It's not easy, but thinking this way frees me to accept my spouse as he is, and love him where he is - instead of fixating on what I'd like to be different. 

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
Intentionally in making goals together, building our relationship, and planning ahead. 

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?
We like movies - we both have learned about each other's native language, history, and culture watching shows in Spanish and English. 

As I've started blogging, it's been good as well to work on projects together. Since having kids we haven't been good at going out. Something to work on!

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
The food! Peruvian food is amazing. I buy rice in bulk, eat eggs with everything, cook Peruvian dishes, add ginger to my chicken broth, and lime to everything. We both miss good fresh Peruvian food!

I also have worked hard to speak Spanish with our kids, and have researched the songs and poetry they would be learning in Peru. We include them in our family "library."

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
As a bit of an introvert, I find all the social expectations overwhelming. It's a big deal to be expressive even on social media, remembering birthdays, etc. I'm paranoid I'll offend someone if I don't respond to a message!

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
Probably not responding to someone online, and I might not realize all the people miffed at me now, hah. I do try! 

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
We had a difficult year when I was pregnant with our first. We had to move in with my parents and a lot of cultural differences were being unearthed, as close friends divorced. 

We went to counseling for a while, the best thing we ever did for our marriage. Our counselor spoke Spanish and English and understood both cultures, which was great. I'm thankful for the hard times in a way, because it forced us to work through things together. 

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
I love the richness and depth two cultures bring to our family. I love that our kids will be bilingual and bicultural. I think that's an incredible gift and perspective to have.

The worst part is that one of us is always far from home. There will be many lost years of knowing one set of cousins, grandparents, and relatives. And traveling is expensive, of course.

What are the biggest misconceptions about Latin / American people?
These are not the biggest misconceptions, but one stereotype is that Latinos are chronically late, and North Americans punctual. We are the exact opposite - I'm the late one!

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
Honestly, people have been incredibly open and kind. There might be curious questions here and there (especially if my darker-skinned husband takes our blonde, light-eyed son out alone - people are used to seeing the opposite), but we welcome those. I am glad people feel comfortable asking us questions and glad for the chance to share with them.

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
Be patient with one another, and don't be afraid to look for help if you reach an impasse. Finding friends in similar relationships is wonderful. Laughter is so good, too!

Do take red flags and real problems seriously: intercultural relationships are complex, and take wisdom to navigate. It's always better to be courageous and confront issues head-on, instead of assuming that love with smooth everything out. The work is absolutely worth it!

(Follow Elisabeth on her blog, Facebook, or Instagram)


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