When Intercultural Marriage Feels Strange

When my husband and I got married, I worked at a very conservative office in the Washington DC area. That area is so multicultural and full of people from all corners of the world. When you walk down the street, you hear so many languages. I LOVED this aspect of the area.

Yet the moment I got married, I felt this strange isolation–from coworkers, family, and friends. Family started commenting constantly on how urgently my new husband needed to learn English. Coworkers and managers made really dumb comments, such as “Wow, your husband said ‘hello’ to me. HE ACTUALLY spoke English!” Some of my friends just found it really puzzling that I had actually decided to marry my husband–they thought that because he was foreign, this wouldn’t last. And I guess they figured I was crazy for taking this path! And my husband’s family and friends felt the same way–why on earth wouldn’t he just marry a NATIVE girl, rather than an American (like me)???

Then, I changed jobs. I became a teacher of ESL (English as a Second Language). I’d worked on my master’s degree in TESL for 2 years. With this job change, my coworkers changed (obviously). Plus, I had sooooo much in common with all of my fellow ESL teachers, I developed new, really strong friendships quickly. My students, all immigrants and foreigners learning English, saw nothing strange or risky about being married to a foreigner. Suddenly, I was normal again!!! WOW.

My new environment completely changed my life and made me feel totally normal again! Most of my coworkers were married to foreigners. Almost all of them, like me, had lived in at least one foreign country and spoke foreign languages in addition to English. They ALL felt very comfortable around my husband, despite that he knew no English.

Changing my environment really made a huge difference in my peace of mind. If you are feeling isolated because your spouse is foreign–OR if you are an expatriate and feeling isolated because YOU are the only foreign spouse among friends, I strongly recommend that you seek places where you can meet other couples like yourselves. This might include language classes, expat social groups, churches with diverse congregations. Seek SOME groups, because you are definitely not alone. Why feel like you are?

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2 thoughts on “When Intercultural Marriage Feels Strange”

  1. I am really relieved to have come across this blog. I am an American and a my fiance is Brazilian. We have dated for 2 years but we were living in separate countries for a year while we worked and saved some money to start a life together. When he proposed, my friends and family acted as if they were shocked. That’s when I started getting the comments from friends and family that he needs to practice his english if we’re ever going to make it work. I feel as if marrying a foreigner makes people feel as if they have free license to openly criticize a relationship and air prejudices. I completely agree that marrying a foreigner brings out the worst in some people. It can be a very lonely experience. Thank you for sharing and bringing some optimism to my life!

  2. I’m so glad I found your story as I can relate to it. Even though my husband is an American, and I am an American citizen and love this country, I’m often looked upon as if I’m an alien because of my accent. I teach ESL, too, and I never feel uncomfortable among my foreign students, but some of my husband’s colleagues and friends don’t always take me seriousely, and I’m an outsider in their company. I guess “our kind of people” (and I insist on ‘people’ not ‘aliens’) have to grow thick skin and enjoy our lives no matter what.

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