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Love across cultures

Love has the power to cross cultural barriers.
Love has the power to cross cultural barriers.

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They say the path of true love never did run smooth. This Valentine's Day, meet seven couples who've navigated cultural and geographical divides to prove that love really does conquer all!

Bella Pham and Jagraj

Bella and Jagra at their Indian wedding.
Bella and Jagra at their Indian wedding.

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Bella Pham from Vietnam first met her Indian husband Jagraj in a vineyard in the Victorian town of Mildura where they were working during summer holidays.

"We both come from different countries with different culture, different language to Australia, we eat different foods and have different beliefs in religion," she says.

"We didn't know much about the others' culture before we met. We never even thought about a relationship with foreigners!"

Today the couple live in Australia, where they speak mainly English to one another, but are trying to learn each other's native language: Punjabi and Vietnamese. "We also try to cook food together," Bella says.

"We set three days for Vietnamese food, three days for Indian food and one day we go out to explore something new."

Bella says that balance and compromise are important in cross-cultural relationships.

"If you fall love with someone from different cultures, it's always hard in beginning but later on when both of you can join together, it will be perfect experience in your life.

"Let your heart show the way."

Dewi and Phil

Dewi and Phil at their Indonesian wedding.
Dewi and Phil at their Indonesian wedding.

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Dewi and Phil met at Melbourne airport in 2008. She was there to farewell a close friend who was heading back home to Indonesia.

"For me, it was love at first sight," Dewi says.

"I knew he was the one when I first laid my eyes on him. After that initial meeting, we added each other on Facebook and about a year later, I asked him out for a coffee and the rest is history."

Although Dewi is Indonesian, she was already living in Australia and had permanent residency when she met Phil. She says that made things much easier for them.

"We were together as boyfriend-girlfriend for three years before we got married and we took that time to really get to know each other, to accept each other's flaws and to embrace each other's unique personalities.

"I think some challenges were experienced by my parents who didn't speak any English. They really wanted to get to know Phil but didn't know how to communicate with him. So I became their interpreter when Phil met them."

The couple then had two weddings, one in Melbourne and one in Indonesia, so the families could attend.

"The wedding in Indonesia meant a lot to us because we got to spend it at a small town in West Java and were attended by thousands of people," Dewi says. "It was a big feast!"

"We would want our children to respect and embrace both cultures. Indonesian culture is part of their heritage; it's part of who they are. Most importantly, we would like to teach our children that it's ok to be different, and that love doesn't see colour."

Amy and Jack

Amy and Jack with their children.
Amy and Jack with their children.

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Amy and Jack became friends before deciding to start a romantic relationship - and it wasn't always easy.

"Marrying someone from a different cultural background was quite difficult in the beginning," Amy says.

"Communication was hard.

"Even now, I still struggle sometimes with our different cultural upbringings, especially now that we have children. Even simple things like the food we eat has become a compromise."

But aside from the challenges, Amy says she's learned a great deal from Jack.

"He was always a refugee before coming to Australia, never really belonging to any country because of his ethnic background," she says.

Jack is Karen, an ethnic minority from the region around the Thai-Burmese border.

"Because of this he is filled with a strong desire to help others who are struggling with displacement. This in turn has influenced me also, and we both aim to help in whatever capacity we can to those around us."

She hopes to pass these values to her children, too.

"It is both my husband's, and my wish that our children grow up bilingual. Not just to communicate with family and friends, but also so the language is never forgotten." 

"Religion is also a big part of our lives, and so we will continue to nurture it in our children's lives. Apart from this, our biggest concern is our kids having respect for people, no matter how different they may be."

Pisey and Matthew

Pisey and Matthew at Angkor Wat.
Pisey and Matthew at Angkor Wat.

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Pisey is Cambodian and says she never expected to have a relationship with anyone from another culture – she thought it would be too complicated. But then she met an Australian man, named Matthew.

"I thought it would be hard to incorporate our differences together, such as food, religion, and our beliefs. However, this is far from the truth. The longer we've been together, the more we can adjust on everything. I don't mind going to the footy sometimes with him as I love different experiences. We also sometimes have Cambodian food (my choice)." 

"Our relationship is so strong because of our shared willingness to try."

"For example, even though Matthew is Christian, he was willing to be actively involved in a family Buddhist ceremony in Cambodia as a mark of respect to me, my mother and extended family. He also still wears the red string on the wrist symbolising acceptance and blessing of our union given to us by my parents and grandfather during our time in Cambodia."

But there are still some challenges.

"We have major problems pronouncing each other's last names," she says.

"It's quite funny as Matthew after nearly two years still finds it impossible to pronounce 'Ngeth'. 'Ng' is not a familiar sound in the English language."

"I also pronounce his family name incorrectly all the time."

Zachary and Pilar

Zachary and Pilar on their travels.
Zachary and Pilar on their travels.

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Valentine's Day has special meaning for Zachary and Pilar, who met by chance through friends in Sydney on the 14th of February in 2015.

Pilar was visiting from Colombia, and had an immediate connection with the Iranian psychologist.

"My first impression of Zach was that he was an interesting and stylish guy, and also a gentleman. He knows very well how to enchant with a good talk," says Pilar.

Zachary felt the same way, and discovered they both had similar beliefs in family, God, and career.

Pilar made the hard decision to move away from her family in Colombia to be with Zachary in Australia permanently.

Not everything has been easy in their relationship, with the difference in languages occasionally causing conflict.

"Sometimes these differences can cause some inconveniences and misunderstandings. These are battles in which you do not win or lose. We just have to accept them as they are," says Pilar.

"It's more language barriers including differences in body language," says Zachary.

"We only speak English, although I have picked up some Spanish and Pilar some Persian."

The couple are celebrating their two year anniversary this year by cooking a mixture of Persian, Colombian and Thai food, which will all be washed down with some Australian wine.

Candice and Gideon

Candice and Gideon at their African wedding ceremony.
Candice and Gideon at their African wedding ceremony.

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Candice met Gideon when he began attending her local church. She was volunteering in Africa at the time, but heard stories about Gideon from friends who said the pair just had to meet.

"Apparently my girlfriends weren't the only ones that thought we'd make a great couple and poor Gideon was told all sorts of stories about 'crazy Candice'!" she says.

"So when I returned from Africa, my housemate made sure to invite Gideon around and things went from there."

Gideon is a member of the Nuer tribe of South Sudan and Ethiopia, and has lived in Australia for over a decade.

"I think that made our relationship a little easier," Candice says, "but I am still attempting to learn his tribal language."

"Before Gideon and I married we talked a lot about our different cultures and what we want our family to be like. I think that that's important in any relationship, but especially coming from diverse backgrounds."

They had two wedding celebrations, one to honour each of their backgrounds, and have just had their first child together.

"The Nuer wedding traditions include the exchange of a dowry and we have been blessed with families that are also willing to learn and honour the different cultures," Candice says. 

"I'm worth 32 cows, which is pretty good, although if Dad had wanted he probably could've got more."

Tony and Yuni

Tony and his family dressed for the Australia Day cultural parade.
Tony and his family dressed for the Australia Day cultural parade.

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Tony Becker from Adelaide in South Australia met his wife Yuni through mutual friends while travelling in Indonesia in 2003.

"I fell in love with  Indonesia and one Indonesian who is now my wife," he says.

"We were met with challenges in our relationship at first being from different countries. 

"I couldn't speak much Indonesian and my wife was just learning English. Because I loved her I soon bought a dictionary/phrasebook and quickly learnt to speak Bahasa Indonesia!"

Yuni moved to Australia in 2006, and both are now fluent in the other's language and together they are very active in Adelaide's Indonesian community. Tony says it's important to them to teach their sons Michael, 10, and Aaron, 8, about the cultures and traditions of Indonesia.

"One major way is through my wife's Indonesian cooking," he says. "Both my sons now love chilli!"

"We teach them Indonesian and we as a family follow Ramadan and fasting with the celebration of Idul Fitri every year."

This article has been altered from the original version, which was published in 2016 on Australia Plus.

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