Cultural values affect married couples

Intercultural dating and marriages present challenges and benefits.

by Elizabeth Giorgi

Saying “I do” often requires compromise, flexibility and love. For many intercultural couples on campus, saying “I do,” has been the learning experience of a lifetime.

The relationship process of dating, marriage and family can be difficult for the average couple. For intercultural couples on campus, these aspects can also pose difficulties, but have rewarding benefits at the same time.

Dating habits

Antonella Corsi Bunker, University International Student Support Services assistant, knew that coming to the United States would be a challenge. The Italian-born student came to the United States with her future husband, who was a student at the University.

She met her husband in Switzerland when they were both studying abroad, and almost instantly they saw the difficulties of dating based on their cultural backgrounds, she said.

In Italy, she said, often when a man asks a woman on a date and she says she can’t go, it doesn’t necessarily mean she isn’t interested. If he keeps asking the woman out, it usually means he must truly be interested, she said.

LeAnne Mfalingundi, associate administrator for the Office of International Programs, said that when she began dating her husband, Innocent, of Tanzania, he had trouble adjusting to the fact that she was white.

Her family didn’t mind that the two were a biracial couple, she said. But that is something that isn’t usually accepted in the Tanzanian culture, she said.

Sophia Gladding, graduate student and program director for the Office of International Programs, said she didn’t experience many cultural differences when she started dating her husband from the United Kingdom.

“Cultural differences were not a large issue,” she said. “The biggest challenge is that someone has to live far away from their family.”

It can be difficult to have to decide who has to leave the country that they consider home to go somewhere new, she said.

Wedding day

“I want Italian cake – it is much creamier,” Corsi Bunker said, in regard to the cake at her wedding reception.

The way American weddings are done is different from other cultures and there is seemingly more stress, she said.

Chip Peterson, program director in the Office of International Programs, and his wife, Rosa Maria, had three weddings.

Peterson said they were married at a courthouse first by a justice of the peace. Then they had a Unitarian wedding for his family and a Catholic wedding in Mexico for Rosa Maria’s family.

Each wedding was different. The wedding in the United States had about 70 people who were in his immediate family, but the wedding in Mexico had between 300 and 400 people, he said.

LeAnne and Innocent Mfalingundi decided to get married by a justice of the peace in the United States.

“My husband wore a pair of jeans and a Bob Marley T-shirt and I wore a dress,” she said.

She said it was a simple occasion, and the justice of the peace couldn’t even pronounce their last name.

The couple hopes to go to Tanzania to have a “traditional, formal African wedding” sometime in the near future, she said.

Language barrier

It isn’t only the distance that can sometimes create a barrier between these couples. The different languages they speak can make it difficult to communicate.

Corsi Bunker is fluent in English, Italian and French.

“The speed of discourse and the tone of voice I used when speaking to people made him believe that we were fighting,” she said.

She said it can be hard to express herself in English to her husband because it’s sometimes hard to convey emotion in a language that isn’t Italian, her native language.

Peterson’s family didn’t have a difficult time speaking two languages, he said.

He and his wife spent time in Latin America and in the United States so they were equally exposed to English and Spanish. They also raised their children to speak both languages, so they could speak whatever language is appropriate to where they are, he said.

Family values

LeAnne Mfalingundi said it is important to negotiate and to use different aspects of the cultures in their family.

She and her husband grew up differently, she said. Innocent Mfalingundi had servants in his home who performed chores when he was a child, whereas LeAnne Mfalingundi did the chores at her home, she said.

“I have really come to realize the freedoms that women experience in this country,” she said.

Antonella Corsi Bunker said raising her son, Christopher, has presented some difficulties in determining priorities.

It is important to teach him values for academics and extracurricular activities, but it is also important to teach him values regarding diversity, she said.

Jennifer Wu Dunn, graduate student and community program assistant for the China Center, said she had to adjust to the inclusiveness of families in the United States.

Families are more inclusive in the United States compared with China, she said, and the amount of effort people make to spend time with family and friends is different.

Wu Dunn took her husband to China and he experienced the extreme hospitality of his wife’s family and friends. It taught him about the way people treat each other in China, she said.

“Cultural differences have enhanced our relationship,” she said.

Culture vs. background

Remi Douah, coordinator for the Multicultural and Academic Affairs Office, said he doesn’t see cultural differences to be as important in affecting marriage as the backgrounds people grew up in.

Douah said it is irrelevant that he and his wife are from different cultures because the definition of culture has to be redefined. People have the potential to grow into global citizens, he said.

He said people too often see physical differences in relationships, such as the fact that one person may be black and one person may be white.

But Douah said that when a couple has different political beliefs, it is not physically noticeable.

People who are wiling to negotiate their beliefs will be successful together, he said.

“Minimize differences and maximize similarities,” he said.