WORDS BY CHRISTIANA FORD
PHOTOS BY AMANI WILLIAMS
It started with a late night in the library.
A project’s morning deadline fast approaching didn’t deter him from visiting his friends on the next floor. “It can wait,” he mumbled to himself, climbing the stairs. He went around the group, greeting each of his friends until he came across an unfamiliar face. He overheard her talking, and the first thing he said was, “How do you speak English so well?”
Their mutual friends led the pair to spend more time together as the semester progresses, and day by day, the two become close.
“She was always there,” Brent Flores, a sophomore visual communication design major from Puerto Rico, says. “Everything we did, she was there, and and we became really, really good friends with each day.”
On Dec. 13, the last day of finals’ week, Flores sat in the Eastway lounge with all of his friends. Kyongmin Hwang sat near him, and he worked up the courage to tell her how he feels.
“I don’t know how to tell you this, but I kind of like you,” Flores says.
“Can I tell you later?” she responds.
At that moment, he thought it was a no. Later in the day, the pair walks down the steps to print out Flores’ project. Walking side-by-side, Flores pays attention to how close their hands are. When they return to campus, they go into the library, and she finally tells him she feels the same way.
Hwang is a freshman business management major from South Korea. Despite how Hwang reacted, she began to like Flores before he even said anything. He was one of the Mr. Flashes on campus and reveled in popularity.
“There was tons of beautiful girls in the campus. Why would he even look at me?” Hwang says. “I never even imagined that I would have any chance to go out with him or talk to him.”
Intercultural relationships are becoming more prevalent, especially in college, says Elizabeth Baker, a psychology graduate appointee.
“College is a time where, for the first time in a lot of people’s lives, they’re moving away from home, so they’re having new autonomy in their lives,” Baker says. “It’s this time where you’re figuring out for yourself what is acceptable.”
South Korea follows strict dating rules, Hwang says. Most Korean parents don’t want their kids to date before age 20. They also follow a conservative style of dating and aren’t as direct. For example, kissing, touching, hugging or expressing how they feel in public is taboo because it lacks privacy. Couples are expected to confess love, talk, then establish their relationship.
In Puerto Rico, the first step in dating is to express feelings, then become her jevo, which is a term to describe the talking phase. After that, it’s time to become an official couple. Puerto Ricans are known for their romanticism, Flores says. Despite that reputation, this is his first relationship. Latino culture is considered very sensual, and men always attempt to make their significant others feel like a queen.
“We know that we can take a girl on the beach, for example, and make her feel like it’s a date that you’ve only seen in movies,” Flores says.
Their difference in culture occasionally leads to difficulties within the relationship, Hwang says. Poor communication mainly affects them. Being from different countries, there is often a language barrier, and words sometimes get misconstrued.
Flores realizes this language barrier and tries not to get upset when words don’t come out like they’re intended to, he says. They always find a quiet place to sit down and have conversations about how they feel.
“Out of all the happy moments we have, I try not not be mad about one thing,” Flores says. “I can’t see myself yell at her. I feel like we handle situations in a very mature way.”
Success in intercultural relationships all comes down to communication, Baker says. The difficulty with that is relationship communication is not something that is formally taught.
Being in a foreign country contributes to their attitudes because they realize that right
now, all they have is each other.
“Unfortunately, if you think about people who watch Disney princess movies growing up, we assume that love is always easy, and our partners should always know what we’re thinking and feeling,” Baker says.
Flores says the easiest thing about their relationship is just loving her. Hwang says it’s feeling comfortable around him. Being in a foreign country contributes to their attitudes because they realize that right now, all they have is each other.
“When I first came here, I was very scared,” Flores says. “No family, no nothing. I had no one here. Reality hits you, and it’s like you’re going to be like this for the rest of your life.”
Hwang’s views on relationships and intimacy have changed, she says. Instead of being so closed off, as expected in South Korea, she now shows more affection in public. In her country, for example, people stare at couples who kiss in public, but Hwang feels more comfortable kissing Flores in public in America, as long as it’s not too much. She and Flores are also more intimate in private.
Hwang had never even met a Latino before coming to the United States, she says. Now, many of her friends are Latino, and she even picked up some of the language. The couple plans to stay together as long as possible and to stay in the U.S. to begin their careers. Even though it’s Flores’ first relationship, he hopes it will be his last.
“I know it’s really early, but I just feel like how I feel everyday, of how much I love her,” Flores says. “I don’t think I could love someone or find someone else that would ever satisfy my love as much as she has.”
They complement each other, which is why their relationship works so well, Flores says. For instance, Hwang is smart, andFlores is a good communicator.
“She’s going to make me into the man I want to be. How we mold each other, even though we come from different cultures,” Flores says. “I have my strengths, and she has hers.”
Hwang wants Flores to be the last person she calls her boyfriend. Having dated two other guys before, she doesn’t want to waste time or energy.
“Throughout all of my life, a lot my boyfriends thought I loved them, but as it turns out, I didn’t,” Hwang says. “I never knew what love meant until I met him. Everything I do, everything I feel, I think about him. I just want to make him happy and comfortable.”
Love, to each of them, means different things, but they can both come to the consensus that being together makes them happy. To Hwang, love means putting someone before yourself. To Flores, love is happiness, and Hwang is that happiness.
“When you have true love, it’s a feeling you can’t describe to anyone,” Flores says. “Obviously, by family, you love by blood. But when you love someone else, you love by choice. You can’t just love anyone like this.”