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Married to the Balkans

Like many young women, I grew up thinking I would marry someone just like my father. My dad is smart, kind, and hard working. He has a great sense of humor and gives the best insight and advice on any topic from how to choose a college major to how to break-up with a bad boyfriend. My dad has always been my advocate, my counsel, my friend, my hero. So, naturally I thought my Mr. Right was going to be just like him and I spent many years waiting for him to arrive on my doorstep. What I didn't realize was that my destiny was to be as authentic as my own life experience and that my future husband was also trailing his own journey and would be waiting for me perhaps not so close to home, but at an unspecified crossroad just over the sunset.

In grade school, I crushed on the boy who lived across the street. In high school, I went to my senior prom with my lab benchmate from AP Biology and for too many years later I dated the textbook equivalents of my father. After one of several failed relationships, I was sitting around feeling sad and called my parents. 

After debriefing them on how the guy I'd gushed about at Christmas dinner had decided that marriage was not on his agenda, my father boldly said to me, "If you are unhappy, it's your own fault! You are a smart girl and you should know better than to keep looking for something that doesn't make sense. I don't understand how you can learn anatomy and pathology but you can't see when a man cares nothing for you! Why don't you start focusing on yourself and your own goals. Then you'll meet the right person who will respect you for it!" I was shocked to hear my father say these harsh words. They angered me and made me mad at him for not crediting me for trying to find someone who I thought was just like him, even if only in theory. Then, I realized that all those years I'd spent campaigning for this ideal was actually a trivial pursuit for a person that wasn't even real---someone I'd invented in my head who shared only certain characteristics of my father.

It took a few weeks for me to get over my own ego and stubbornness, but I slowly applied my father's advice. I immersed myself into my practice of dentistry, started building friendships with people who had similar passions, and soon enough I found myself out on dates with super interesting people. It's perhaps unsurprising that I met my husband in an international city like Washington, DC. However, when I think about it, it's not by accident that I met someone who after overcoming many challenges journeyed far away from home and took a chance to make a better life for himself.

My mother is a bilingual expert in Spanish and English, who teaches students that have immigrated to the United States from other countries. She has always graciously extended her duty beyond the walls of her classroom. Growing up, our family hosted students from Nicaragua, Korea, and Liberia. We lived abroad in Japan when my mother participated in a teacher exchange program. My experiences and regard for cross-cultural relations inspired me to major in International Affairs in college and infuse my value for my husband's journey from a land rich in culture and spirit yet marred by the divisions of war and history. 

On our first date, I queried my husband about his homeland. I knew very little about the Balkans or Serbia, outside of the tragedies highlighted by our media. My husband enlightened me about stories of his childhood before, during, and after battles over religion and politics. His spirit was moving, his accent was distinct, his visions were memorable, and most importantly---he asked me out for a second date even before our first had ended. In the decade since we first met, my husband has motivated and supported all of my dreams and not only as a good and decent man very much like my father but as an amazing life partner and father to our child. 

Our life on the surface is far from ideal and in between the rich thick layers, it's more fascinating than I could have ever imagined. We have been fortunate to maintain a very international lifestyle, living abroad in Germany and routinely traveling across the seas of the Mediterranean and Adriatic. The food, music, and culture of our experience is blended like the years of my childhood and the visions of my own ancestors because we are not intimidated by the greatness of what we can be beyond our own expectations and even our wildest dreams.