Couples love on each other 365 days a year but February 14 is recognized as an official holiday. I was very excited to interview Sonya about how she found love abroad. I met her 9 years ago in Ghana when we became roommates during a month long study abroad trip. We have told each other many stories about our dating life but this by far is the best story that she has told.
Tiffany: What motivated you to live abroad?
Sonya: After meeting other solo travelers, I dreamt about taking my own personal adventure. After being approved for a 6-month leave from my job as a teacher, I broke my apartment lease and parked my car in my sister’s garage. During the first 6 months, I traveled to Mexico, Cuba, Guatemala, Venezuela, and Colombia. I budgeted approximately $40-50 per day which included food, bed at a hostel, local transportation, and an occasional tour. I normally stayed in hostels vs. hotels and used local transportation vs. airplanes to keep within my estimated budget. Hostels are a great way to meet friends and form new travel buddies. Local transportation allowed for cultural immersion.
Tiffany: Were you looking for love abroad or did it happen naturally?
Sonya: While traveling I was looking to have fun and meet new friends. When I’m in other places I am fearless, uninhibited and free from social constraints. This allowed me to be open to dating and everything that may come along with that. I wasn’t looking for love but I was open to the possibility of finding love. Possibilities allowed me to find the love of my life (William) in Colombia.
Tiffany: When did you fall in love? At what point in your relationship did you know that you wanted to be married?
Sonya: While at a hostel in Colombia, someone told me about a small city north of the capital called San Gil. I booked a Para gliding tour and William happened to be the instructor. The following day we met again and talked for several hours about everything. Prior to meeting William, I scheduled a trip to Peru. After arriving in Peru, I became sad because I missed William and wanted him by my side so we could explore together. About a month later, I returned to Colombia to spend more time with William. Even though our relationship developed quickly, I knew that he was different from all the other men I had previously dated. He was honest and wanted more than a temporary good time. Although I enjoyed our time together, I began to miss my family in California. Of course, I wanted William to return to the states with me. Unfortunately, his tourist visa application had been denied several times. I decided to apply for a teacher position in Bogota, Colombia and taught Middle School Science for a year. After dating for Colombia years we came to the USA to officially tie the knot.
Tiffany: How have you and your husband adjusted to living in the USA?
Sonya: I experienced culture shock after returning from Colombia to the USA. It was hard to adjust due to not having employment and searching for a new apartment. It was hard for William as he didn’t know the language or the culture. He had to heavily depend on me for mostly everything. I had to teach him about simple things such as crossing the street and driving as they are a bit more aggressive in Colombia. He even dealt with racism. He was stopped and harassed while on his bike because he fit the profile of someone with a backpack. At the time he did not speak English which made the situation both frustrating and scary. Many times we both felt like it was a mistake coming to the states but realized the challenges has made our relationship stronger.
Tiffany: What were your family and friends initial reaction after learning about your new found love?
Sonya: Thankfully my friends have been happy and supportive of our relationship.
On the surface, my family was very supportive. Many of my family members attended the court ceremony and my sister provided a photography session as a wedding gift. A month after the wedding my family told me the truth about their feelings toward my new husband. They thought I was settling and deserved better. My husband asked my family to give him a chance to prove that he could be a great man and a provider. 7 years later and he still has not gained their approval. Their fears have added to our stress as a couple but or relationship has remained solid and become a beautiful rainbow despite the doubtful feelings of my family.
Tiffany: What advice would you give to a person who falls in love abroad? Take a risk or play it safe
Sonya: I would say take one day at a time. I often check in with myself. I’ve learned to be cautious if I have a weird vibe about a guy and press forward if I’m feeling good vibes. I advise people take risks with caution.
Tiffany: Where have you and William traveled too since being together?
Sonya: Due to my husband initially not having a passport, our first trip was a road trip on the west coast to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Bryce and Joshua tree.
In 2014, we had to find a place where you didn’t need a visa as a Colombian. We had to choose between the Philippines and Turkey. We chose Turkey due to the Turkish language and wanting to learn about Muslim culture. It was an experience; we were able to see Syrian refugees and freedom fighters. We often had to tell people we were Colombian and not American due to backlash from the Turkish community.
In 2015, we traveled for 6 weeks to Brazil (Rio), Argentina and Paraguay. I love South America due to the fusion of African, European and Indigenous cultures.
In 2016, we decided to travel to ten different cities in Europe. We really enjoyed this vacation because we met up with friends who we have met while traveling on other trips.
Our future plans include Southeast Asia (Thailand and Cambodia) and East Africa (Uganda and Kenya).
Tiffany: Do you believe that traveling together has strengthened your relationship?
Sonya: There is potential for conflict due to the decisions that you have to make. For example, you have to make daily decisions about what to eat, how much to pay for tours, hotels, and excursions. Despite the challenges, I think traveling is great to get away from the daily grind of everyday life. There is an opportunity to bond, relax, immersion in other countries and enjoy each other company.
Tiffany: Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years.
Sonya: I am currently a middle school science teacher my husband will be a student at Dominguez Hills in the fall and plans to be a math teacher. A career in teaching will allow both of us to travel during the summer. We are currently planning to have children. Our goal is to travel and explore with our children to provide them with adventures and memories.
Tiffany: What tips would you provide for people dating abroad?
Sonya: I encourage everyone to seek both individual and couples therapy. I would also encourage people to date or live together prior to marrying. It will allow you to see you’re significant in different setting and climates. You are going to encounter haters, stress, and frustrations but the key is to follow your heart. Don’t let fear stop you from doing what you want to do. We are happy because we now are both bilingual, have two countries we call home, gained knowledge and perspective on life. Lastly, remember how and why you fell in love.