Love, Language and Marriage: Bilingual Love Stories from the English Language Center
- Feb 14, 2023
- Kayla Johnson, Alex Briseño
Classes in the English Language Center (ELC) at The University of Texas at Austin provide participants with numerous benefits: improved language skills, expanded networking opportunities and greater cultural competency.
Among these, “romantic love” typically isn’t listed as a primary outcome of language learning. However, the welcoming atmosphere and emphasis on personal connection at the ELC have more than once resulted in far-flung love connections among students in various programs.
For this Valentine’s Day 2023, Texas Global is pleased to tell two of these bilingual love stories.
- Sinan and Jacquie: Iraq and Mexico
Sinan Ameer Yousif was in Baghdad, Iraq, when he learned that he would be traveling to UT Austin to study at the ELC through the Junior Faculty Development Program for Iraq: Teaching English as a Foreign Language.
As an English professor in Iraq, Sinan arrived with the intention of furthering his career. What he wasn’t expecting was to meet Lizbeth Jacqueline Pérez Daza, the woman who would become his wife.
At the same time, more than 7,600 miles from Baghdad, in Mérida — the capital of Yucatán, near the southern tip of Mexico — Jacquie was informed that she had been awarded the COMEXUS Fulbright scholarship for a second year. She arrived at the Forty Acres to study at the ELC during the summer of 2018, the same as Sinan.
The two traded glances during the first two weeks of their visit, but it took a mutual friend introducing them during a trip to San Antonio for Sinan to finally send Jacquie a text.
“Did you accidentally text me?” Jacquie texted Sinan in response. “Did you really plan to reach me? Because you never really talk to me.”
Sinan replied, “Well, I’m trying to. I want to invite you to breakfast.”
Though he doesn’t love Mexican food, Sinan took Jacquie to the Taco Shack on the corner of Guadalupe and 29th Street, an early sacrifice that immediately made a positive impression. He then proceeded to spend the first date quizzing Jacquie on her educational background.
“Do you have a master’s? Do you have published articles?”
While answering yes to both questions, she couldn’t help thinking, “What is this, a job interview?”
Jacquie quickly learned that Sinan was serious about academics, which explained his line of questioning, and he discovered that Jacquie loves the outdoors. After a few more dates, they also realized that they complemented each other quite nicely.
“After that first breakfast, we spent so much time together,” Jacquie said. “I wanted to know more about him.”
One of the very few downsides to connecting during a short-term program is just that: It’s temporary. In Jacquie’s case, her stay was just for one month. After the initial two weeks it took for the pair to introduce themselves, their daunting goodbye was already around the corner, just as sparks started to fly.
Jacquie took Sinan to The Oasis on Lake Travis for their “final” date, where she was transparent in voicing her concerns that Sinan would simply forget about her after their goodbye.
“I said, ‘No, you have my word. I choose you,’ ” Sinan recalled. “When you find a person that completes you, who is hardworking, spontaneous and diligent — no matter the culture — that gives me assurance that we can make this work.”
And so, just one week after returning to Mexico, Jacquie went back to Austin to spend a weekend with Sinan. The next week, he visited Mexico to spend his final weekend with her before returning to Iraq.
What ensued was almost two years of a long-distance relationship. The couple spent every second of vacation time on brief visits and made the best of the 9-hour time difference via early morning and late-night calls. Eventually, though, Sinan relocated to Mexico, where he ultimately proposed to Jacquie in 2020.
After six months of waiting for his birth documents to be authorized through Abu Dhabi's Mexican Embassy, the couple then encountered more logistical complications at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
But finally, on June 4, 2021, almost three years after their first date in Austin, Jacquie and Sinan were ready for their wedding.
“Despite differences in cultures and challenges presented by the pandemic, sometimes the things you view as potential signs to not stay with a person are really just challenges and opportunities to strengthen your relationship,” Jacquie and Sinan recall the priest saying during the wedding.
Jacquie added, “The universe may appear to be sending signs, but your heart will always guide you — and it’s all thanks to UT Austin that we met.”
Sinan and Jacquie recently moved into a home together in Mérida, where they hope to start a family and plan on opening an academy to teach English, Arabic and intercultural courses.
“You don’t know when, where or how you will meet the person you’re going to spend your entire life with. Neither of us expected to be in Texas at that specific time in 2018,” Sinan said.
“You work hard to pass exams, earn degrees and get a job,” he continued. “But I never imagined ... I worked hard to have the opportunity to fall in love with a Mexican professor who eventually became my wife and life partner. You don’t know when you will find love. When you feel it, though, it’s important to work on it because all other things will vanish.”
- Marco and Danila: Argentina
Danila Blanco Travnicek first noticed her now-husband, Marco Aizen, at their shared visa appointment in Buenos Aires in January 2016. The two were preparing to study abroad at UT Austin as part of the Friends of Fulbright Argentina (FOF) program.
Marco doesn’t remember it, but they also attended the same FOF orientation session, though Danila didn’t get the chance to talk to him. Happily, when they met again in the United States, there was an instant connection.
“Since the moment we started interacting in Austin, we had strong chemistry,” Marco said. Through group discussions with their cohort, the two realized how strongly their core values aligned, and they found themselves curious about the same things. They quickly became joined at the hip, with their friends jokingly calling them “the spouses.”
Despite enrollment in university courses along with their ELC courses, they were still able to find time to relax and enjoy Austin's atmosphere. As they explored new places together — going for a morning run to Lady Bird Lake or feeding the ducks on the lake behind Mozart’s Coffee Roasters — their love grew.
On their only free weekend, they rented a car with friends and traveled to New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz. (Danila is an enthusiast.) One night as they walked alone through the city, a man stopped them. He grabbed Marco and told him, “Take care of her your whole life and love her — because if not, I’m going to eat you. I’m an alligator man.”
However bizarre the story, it was one they’d share with family and friends for years, including at their wedding. Thinking about the Alligator Man, Marco joked, “Well, he predicted the future, so really he was a visionary.”
Friends of Fulbright was the beginning of many great experiences for the couple, Danila said, and the U.S. remained central to their love story. A few years later in May 2021, Marco received another Fulbright scholarship and completed a master’s program at the University of Illinois.
Their next destination was New York, where Danila worked with the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative in June 2021. Marco proposed to her in Central Park as they ate breakfast on a boat in the middle of the lake.
The couple’s wedding ceremony took place in December 2022 in the serene forest of Marco’s hometown, San Carlos de Bariloche. The ceremony was filled with “a lot of love and a lot of dancing,” according to the couple. Among the guests were friends they had made during their time at UT Austin.
Marco and Danila now have established careers in Buenos Aires. They say they're excited to keep seeing more of the world, continuing to grow and learn together wherever life takes them. And although they are still uncertain about many things, Danila said, “We know that we are going to stick together.”