Love conquers intercultural differences: couples say relationship requires an effort to understand each other

Written by: 
Helam Lau

Two couples from different parts of the world shared how they transcend their cultural barriers through love and understanding.

Koshin Kitagaki, a sophomore from Japan majoring in accounting and his fiancee, Himmy Wu, a TESOL sophomore from Hong Kong, said misunderstandings happen for a variety of reasons but being willing to apologize and take the time to make sure each other understands completely what they say in English, which is their second language, has helped them.

Ken Okada, a junior majoring in accounting from Japan and his Brazilian wife, Brenda Okada, said working to understand each others cultures and learning their language has helped them. But they added they don’t require each other to immerse themselves in their spouses’ culture.

Beyond Japanese and Chinese Cultural differences, There are personality clashes

“I had told everyone I was going to find a Japanese girl at BYUH. However, it just happened. I met this girl and fell in love with her,” said Kitagaki, referring to Wu. They are planning on getting married in April.

Having been in the relationship for almost a year, Kitagaki said for Wu and himself, he believes differences or trials aren’t always attributed to cultural dissimilarities. “If we have conflicts at times, it was because of the difference in our personalities.”

In terms of resolving conflicts or arguments, Kitagaki expressed, “Sometimes I knew it was not my fault, but I would be the first one to apologize. I do not want to correct her by saying, ‘I was right and you were wrong.’ That is not my first priority. More than that, I love her.”

Wu replied, “He is always the first one to apologize.” She said sometimes he does things that hurt her but he doesn’t realize it. Kitagaki referred to himself as a reserved person who is more of a listener than a talker. “For Himmy, she is the opposite. She just talks, talks, talks and talks,” he said. “I feel more comfortable to be with her because I don’t have to constantly think of how to start a conversation. It is fun to be with her. She has something that I don’t have, which I have found attractive.”

Wu said something that stood out to her with her fiancé is he is a really righteous person. “He never cheated and copied homework the times I wanted to look at his answers. His standards made him stand out from others.”

“We had three of the same EIL classes. We saw each other every day. Because of that, we got to know each other more and we even did homework together. I think he is smart and I always asked him about homework.”

She added, “I can tell he loves his family so much, which is something that I wanted for my boyfriend and even my husband.”

Wu said she thinks it is undeniable that their different languages do have an impact on their relationship. “I don’t speak Japanese and he doesn’t speak Chinese. We can only communicate in English, which is not our first language. That made it harder to express ourselves. “

She explained how different languages were not the biggest issue in their relationship. “Our miscommunication mostly is not a result because of the language.

“At times I thought he understood what I meant, so I did not explain further. In fact, he did not. How we respond to each other and how we share our thoughts is the key.”

As an example of sharing cultural differences and accepting each other’s traditions, Kitagaki said he thinks Wu uses chopsticks poorly because they can be used differently. in the two countries.

Additionally, in Chinese culture, when a girl gets married, the groom is required to pay a certain amount of money for owning the bride according to an agreement with both families. Kitagaki said he was confused by the purpose of this tradition.

The couple explained how through small sacrifices, they are striving to take the time to get to know each other’s cultures. Wu said she is taking Japanese 101 and preparing herself to live in Japan in the future. In the meantime, Kitagaki said he is spending more time to attend activities held on campus about Hong Kong.

Kitagaki said he now lives with a bunch of Hong Kong guys, who try to be friends with him. He expressed, “I did not feel uncomfortable when I went to Hong Kong group activities with Wu. However, I still feel I don’t belong to them, which is normal to feel that way.”

Wu said, “We spoke Cantonese a lot still when we hung out with a bunch of Hong Kong people. That was why I always translated for him.”

“Her Hong Kong friends are really welcoming to me,” said Kitagaki. “They are really nice. They support and care about me. They talked to me in English and asked me many questions. They invited me to play soccer and video games. They don’t exclude me even though I am not from Hong Kong.

“We are planning to live in Hong Kong to save money for four to five years and then move to Utah for further study. Ultimately, we would stay in Japan. That is the best for us,” Kitagaki said.

A Japanese-Brazilian Couple’s Story

Ken Okada, a junior majoring in accounting from Japan and Brazilian his wife, Brenda, said she is going to start her studying at BYUH this semester.

The couple said they first met as fellow employees at a company they worked for in Paraguay for four months. Ken Okada said he went for an internship while his wife was invited by her ex-boyfriend to work with him in another place. However, she broke up with the then-boyfriend two weeks before her flight.

Brenda Okada said, “He is the first Japanese [person], both born and raised in Japan, I have met. It was even crazier that I met him in Paraguay.” She said she wasn’t sure how they started dating after only three weeks of having met each other.

Ken Okada said, “I wanted to marry a Japanese girl and that’s why I came to BYUH. I did not plan to have an official relationship with a girl who is not from Japan before, unless I found her really attractive or special. … Nationality is not a big issue.”

They recently got sealed in the temple in Brazil after dating for 11 months. After their marriage, Brenda Okada said she followed her husband to BYUH.

“We both are really adaptable,” her husband added. Wwhenever they have issues, he said, "We talk and fix it. We can solve problems together.”

She added her husband does not require her to immerse herself 100 percent into the Japanese culture nor live like the Japanese, “but he understands my background.”

“For the first month of the long-distance relationship, it was really hard for me and I was thinking about breaking up. Ken went over from Japan to Brazil to stay for two days with me to make me change my mind. After he did that, I knew he was totally committed.”

She said before meeting her husband, she would have studied in Brazil then to come to BYUH. “My original plan was to continue my education in Brazil after finishing the work in Paraguay, but then I met him.”

Ken Okada said, “Sometimes the language is hard.” He said with some topics, he does not feel fluent enough to talk about in English. “However, I feel like we do it all right.”

He continued, “Language is not a big issue. … I am learning Spanish and Portuguese from Brenda.” Ken Okada said he thinks their relationship will add to his future career because he wants to work in an international corporation.

“I am learning Portuguese for her family, as I have some language barriers with them. They don’t feel comfortable to speak English. It is better for me to learn Portuguese so that I can show them respect. I want our kids to speak Portuguese too.”

Regarding cultural differences, Brenda Okada said she felt like Japanese and Brazilians can often have opposite characteristics. “Japanese are rather quiet and super polite. Brazilians are outgoing and show affections easily, and we love to joke around. I don’t mind the differences, but I know I would miss the craziness of Brazilian culture. … I tried my best to fit in [with] the culture.”

Ken Okada experienced his wife’s culture during his first year of living in South America. “The working atmosphere is pretty loose.

“When I was in Brazil, the workers there were not working hard enough," he said compared to Japanese culture and strictly business attitudes at word. "I didn’t get it. That is not how we get work done in Japan.”

Brenda Okada said, “He doesn’t get Brazilian jokes with a lack of Brazilian background knowledge and also the language. We have a different sense of humor. He is still funny though.”

One other cultural difference for the couple was orderliness, such as the tradition of taking off shoes before entering a house to keep it clean. Ken Okada said, “In Japan, we like to maintain cleanliness rather than making a mess and then clean it up.”

Date Published: 
Friday, January 19, 2018
Last Edited: 
Friday, January 19, 2018

NOTE: This article's online publication was delayed because it was featured in the Jan. 2018 print issue.