Saturday, April 23, 2016

My Intercultural Love: Kathleen & Abhijeet

This lovely couple met in the office in India, lived in Bangalore and then moved back to the US!

Kathleen and Abhijeet (Abhi) - Kathleen is originally from Ohio, USA and Abhi is originally from Bhopal, India. Kathleen is half Italian and half German and grew up with a large Italian family who immigrated in the 1920's to US (many relatives spoke only Italian). Abhi is Marwadi and an only child but his dad has 6 siblings and his mom has 3 siblings so he grew up with many cousins in a joint family set-up. We currently live in Ohio after living in Pune and Bangalore together for 5 years and we have 2 boys from Kathleen's first marriage.

Three words that describe you...
Kathleen: Talkative, Inquisitive, Foodie.
Abhijeet: Relaxed, Practical, Expensive.

Favorite childhood memory...
Kathleen: My sister and I grew up doing a lot outside. Our property had a creek and forest that my parents would take us for walks around. We had a pool and spent HOURS swimming daily in the summer. We would collect beautiful fall leaves with all the colors, we learned how to skip rocks across the quiet areas of the creek. I think growing up this way instilled my love for being outside!
Abhijeet: When I rode the scooter with my grandfather and he let me steer (I was like 5 years old)

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
Kathleen: Out in nature, I have always loved taking walks, listening to the birds and just observing the beauty of our world.
Abhijeet: In the comfort of my home.

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
Kathleen: I had moved to Pune India for a new job and we met in the office. Abhi was designated by my manager to help me out as I was getting settled. I had to change a bunch of money and he helped me count it all (I wasn't familiar with Indian money yet).

How long have you been together?
We have been a couple for over 6 years now! Married for 3 years in May 2016! 

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
Kathleen: I feel Abhi is the most supportive person I could have asked for. He listens to me as well as to others and provides thoughtful, logical responses and feedback. He is objective yet so loving and caring for me and our kids.
Abhijeet: Kathleen is the realistic one in our relationship. We balance each other nicely. On a lighter note, she stresses a lot and I don't at all. 

Favorite memory together as a couple...
Our many frequent trips to Goa! We love to travel but being able to take quick trips from Pune to Goa or from Bangalore to Goa was refreshing, fun and allowed us to reconnect as a couple

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
Kathleen: I felt like I knew a fair amount - I had traveled to Delhi/Gurgaon for work and spent 2 months there. I absolutely fell in love with India and the culture and decided I would move there. 1 year later I had landed a job in Pune and I realized I didn't know as much as I thought about Indian culture! I was constantly asking if names were boy or girl when I first arrived in my office (just reading a name in an email and being unfamiliar I had no clue if I should reply "he" or "she"!). I also didn't realize how different Pune culture would be from what I had experienced in Delhi and Gurgaon. Luckily I had some great colleagues to help me learn quickly!
Abhijeet: I didn't really know much about it, but I really got to know more as we were dating. 

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship? 
Kathleen: I told my family I was dating a guy from work in India and honestly, they weren't surprised. I had been living and working there and it was a logical next step. They were a little concerned how difficult would it be and if Abhi had good intentions (my sister really grilled Abhi...ha ha!) but after getting to know him they think he is perfect for me!
Abhijeet: I told my mom that I found a girl that I want to get married to. I took Kathleen home to meet my entire family and I didn't care what anyone thought, as I had already made up my mind. 

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
Kathleen: It has made me realize that you really need to be open to any and all experiences. If you had told me when I was in high school that I would become a world traveler and marry someone from the other side of the globe I would have never believed it. 

Who proposed and how?
Kathleen: We had previously bought our rings during a trip to the USA and were just waiting to decide how we were going to exchange rings (the traditional Indian way or the more American way). Abhi proposed to me, we had planned a trip to Goa and it was pouring down rain so we couldn't get to the bus stop (they ended up canceling the bus anyway). He was adamant that we HAD to take this trip so we quickly booked a flight for the next morning and ended up arriving just slightly later than we would have by bus anyway. So we went to dinner at this amazing Greek restaurant called Thalassa that overlooks the ocean in Little Vagator Beach. We had AMAZING food and even better baklava! So delish that we made a sunset reservation for a great table 2 days later. Well 2 days later we arrive back at Thalassa and had the best table in the place, we were watching this amazing sunset and eating delicious food! Little did I know that Abhi had brought along a thumb drive with the Bruno Mars song "Marry Me" and asked the restaurant to play it over their sound system. When it was playing he pulled out a gorgeous ring and asked if I would officially marry him! In true Indian fashion, both men and women get engagement rings. So when we got back home to Bangalore I began planning how I would propose to Abhi. I took his favorite song, Bryan Adams "I want to be your underwear" and wrote new lyrics to parts of the song. I had the music all ready and one night when he was home from office I was pretending to be working on my laptop but then started playing the song and singing the new lyrics I had written. Then I gave him his ring. This was about a week after he had proposed to me.

Describe your wedding...
Kathleen: Small, simple and yet chaotic. Originally we were planning the traditional Indian wedding in Abhi's hometown of Bhopal. But then I got an amazing job offer back in the US and decided to move up the wedding. We planned the entire thing in just 2 weeks! We were living in Bangalore but decided to go back to Pune, where we met, to get married and had a lot of our friends. We flew from Bangalore to Pune and the day we landed we had the Mehendi, I was exhausted by the time we were done! Then the next day we got up and had to clean off the Mehendi get showered and dressed and show up at the Registrar Office by noon for our official court marriage. We signed all the papers and had friends and family with us as we took our official legal vows. Then we went out for a lunch with our guests. After lunch, I went home and took a quick nap before getting up and getting dressed in another outfit for our temple wedding that evening. We had a temple wedding (in a Hanuman temple which is really ironic) and a mix of Marwadi traditions (Abhi is Marwadi) and Marathi traditions (the priest was Marathi). After the temple wedding, I again changed clothes and we had a reception. This honestly was the best part, being surrounded by many of our closest friends and having free flowing drinks and food! Honestly it was just the best party I ever attended! Then the next day we had to get up early to bathe and dress to do some more Hindu rituals and visit a few temples for blessings. Then the next day we flew back to Bangalore and again had to do more rituals before we entered our home as a newly married couple!

What does being married mean to you?
Kathleen: Having my best friend for laughs, support and discussions (and people watching) for all the rest of my days!
Abhijeet: Trusting in one person and being complete.

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
Both: Keep traveling and having new experiences together. Sharing as much as possible with kids and family.

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
Kathleen: The desire to see and try new and different things. Keeping your family close and taking care of each other.
Abhijeet: Keeping family and friends close and taking care of each other (there is no formality - when you need something it is expected that they will help, and when they need something it is expected you will help).

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?
Both: We love to travel both as a couple as well as with family. We try to plan at least 2 trips a year, 1 couple trip and 1 larger family trip (including the kids, parents and sometimes extended family). When we aren't taking big trips we still like to do weekend getaways (there are a lot of nice places within 8 hrs drive from Ohio) and we do also love to be outside taking walks in the park or hiking or going to movies when the weather is too cold/snowy!

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
Kathleen: When I was living and working in India I had adopted most of Abhi's culture. I would wear Indian clothes to the office; I was self sufficient in getting my own rickshaw to/from the mall; eventually I bought a car and drove myself daily to the office or for errands and we ate Indian food daily (thanks to our cook). Now that we are living back in the US we still eat Indian food but probably only half the time (I cook the "western" dishes and Abhi cooks the "Indian" dishes). I wear Indian clothes (suits or saris) when we go to Temple or attend functions. We celebrate Indian holidays in addition to US holidays (we've done this from the beginning, the more holidays the better!).
Abhijeet: I use toilet paper on a daily basis (ha ha joke!!!) but seriously I have attended Church more often than Temple since moving to the US (mostly for convenience purposes), I am learning about and celebrating US holidays and have learned to drive on the "other side of the road" since moving to the US.

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
Kathleen: My family knows that Abhi is vegetarian so they have adapted that they know to always cook something (or a few things) that Abhi can eat. They also have tried Indian food and some they love (Abhi's potatoes always get requests) and a couple people just aren't crazy about Indian food at all (which is ok, they tried but its just not their thing).
Abhijeet: Not really no.

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
Kathleen: I am ok with most everything, except I don't like the keeping of secrets. I just can't get on board with not answering honestly when someone asks me a question. Its been very difficult to purposefully give a vague answer. One other thing that I find difficult to embrace is the mentality that the woman cooking needs to provide hot roti while everyone eats and then eat last, alone. When we are with my MIL I prefer she make the roti and keep them in a warmer so we can all sit and eat together. In terms of rituals, I am pretty much OK with all of them if the significance can be explained to me. I am NOT a proponent of doing things "because that's the way its done" - if it doesn't make sense then I don't do it.
Abhijeet: I am pretty flexible and don't really have any problems except for the tradition of eating fish at the New Year for prosperity, I just can't stand that.

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
Kathleen: When I was first in India colleagues would ask if I wanted to go for chai, or if I wanted a snack and I would always reply "No, I'm good" not realizing they were trying to be good hosts and I was offending them. Also, its very typical for American's to say "I don't care" as in, what do you want to eat? "Oh, I don't care". Well my colleagues in India really took offense to this phrase taking it very literally when I really just meant to say "I am good with anything and defer to your decision". One of the funniest misunderstandings (not necessarily a faux-pas) was that an Indian colleague of mine and I had just finished a presentation and had gotten some feedback we needed to incorporate in the slides. I asked him what he wanted to do and he said "Lets sit on it." I was a little upset because I took that to mean "Lets sit and wait, we will get to it eventually" but what he meant was "lets sit together and complete it now"!
Abhijeet: We borrowed something from a friend - and in India we would usually keep the borrowed item until the owner asked for it back (say, borrowing a DVD or a Xbox game from a friend) but here in US, Kathleen said its important to return a borrowed item ASAP before they have the need to ask you for it.

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
Kathleen: For me the most challenging time was when we were apart for 12 months during immigration proceedings. I moved from India back to the US in July 2013. Luckily I was able to go back and visit for Diwali, then Abhi was able to come to US and visit for Christmas and New Years. Then I spent the months of May and June 2014 in India working remotely before Abhi finally came to the US in July 2014. But being apart was definitely challenging. 

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
Best: You get to meet and really know other people and their culture more than when you visit as a tourist or on a work trip.
Worst: Being spread out across the globe - sometimes you just really miss family and friends.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
That you are in it for some ulterior motive such as money or a green card or anything other than what the relationship is truly about: two people who are compatible and love each other and want to be together.

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
Be open minded and flexible. Have faith and support your partner. 


Click HERE to read more intercultural love stories!

1 comment

  1. Kathleen and Abhi,

    You have a lovely family, best wishes to you both and your family.



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