Expat story: The gifts of a cross-cultural relationship

In this Tuesday’s article, Expat Nest shares the story of American-born Lori, who recently lost her great love. Lori and her Dominican husband met in her hometown of Rochester, New York, where they spent nearly seven years of their married life. In this piece she welcomes us into their cross-cultural world and shares some of the gifts of their relationship – gifts that have become all the more apparent (and precious) since his passing. Through her story we are reminded to appreciate the love we have; we are reminded that life can have unexpected twists and how important it is to seize the day.


November 29, 2014 would have been our seventh wedding anniversary, and I will be celebrating it in the cemetery. As I kneel in the snow by the gravesite adorned with a Christmas wreath, I will intone my own romantic bachata for the spirit of Ramón Antonio Nolasco Beltré. Bachata, a three-step dance from the Dominican Republic, has an upbeat rhythm with sad lyrics about lost love.

Whenever we travelled to the Dominican Republic, I stayed with Ramón’s family members. At lunch or dinner they often shared with me a typical stew called sancocho, made with chicken and root vegetables. Ramón used to help me peel the plátanos (plantains) and reminded me that they were not as easy to peel as bananas. In the last months of his life, he was too ill to even eat this dish that he had taught me to prepare.

According to the French philosopher Pascal, The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. I was reborn when I decided to learn Spanish and follow Ramón to the island of his birth for the first time in the summer of 2007. (In fact, I journeyed to the island every time I walked in the door of the home we bought just last spring and he greeted me in his vibrant language.)

I began learning Spanish at the age of 39. Since I had already spent 12 years in Paris and mastered the more challenging French grammar and pronunciation, it was easy to acquire Spanish without ever taking a class. It was after years of daily conversation with Ramón that I became fluent enough to be mistaken for a native speaker. This gift has allowed me to express the deepest of emotions in the most powerful way.

‘Pass away’ and fallecer mean the same, but somehow the pain is less intense when I say it in Spanish. Yet even in Ramón’s passing, he left the ultimate gift in our cross-cultural marriage: he has left me a legacy of language and culture. These I will carry forth during my next trip during the coming Christmas season, a pilgrimage to the land of my rebirth.


We would love to hear from you. If you are in a cross-cultural relationship, what gifts have you experienced? What have been the hardest parts? How have you and your partner embraced each other’s culture?

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© Vivian Chiona


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