The University of Iowa

UI community speaks about cross-cultural relationships

February 15th, 2012

By Audrey Dwyer, The Daily Iowan

Though some say American culture celebrates roses and chocolates on Valentine’s Day, couples with inter-cultural relationships celebrate a mixture of traditions.

Yume Hidaka, the UI’s Japan outreach initiative coordinator, attended the university’s “Valentine’s Day: Dating and Courtship Across Cultures” Monday, in which UI students and faculty discussed how Valentine’s Day is celebrated in their cultures. The native of Japan, who moved to Iowa from Tokyo, said she was struck in her new home by how open Americans express themselves.

“Neither Japanese say ‘I love you’ to each other nor kiss in public,” she said. “Some women in Japan always dream about that direct approach that foreigners do and the sweet situation like [in] Western movies.”

A cross-cultural relationship is difficult but not impossible, she said. While language tends to be the biggest problem for international couples, she said it was still possible for both members of the relationship to work through. Differences in cultural traditions tend to be another significant problem, she said.

“… My best friend, who is Japanese and has been married to an American guy, told me one day that it will never be possible to share the value of [your] own culture with someone from [an]other country even if there is a love and respect there,” she said.

Despite the cultural barrier, Hidaka said, inter-cultural couples are becoming more common in Japan.

“Cross-cultural relationships require a great deal of communication and compromises, which, incidentally, are also the elements of most required for a successful relationship in general,” said Lindsay Fox, a University of Iowa International Program communications and relations graduate assistant.

However, these cultural barriers are still significant in multicultural couples unhindered by different languages.

“In a cross-cultural context, there can be no assumptions, even in matter of the heart,” Fox said. “Some cultures may not celebrate Valentine’s Day at all — some cultures may celebrate love in different way. Who says roses are an expression of love? Imagine all the new ways you could learn to say, ‘I love you.’ ”

Stephanie Rose, a UI educational adviser for communication-studies majors, spoke about what she had to learn as a Canadian married to an American.

“Culturally, there’s more of a culture of celebration in the U.S,” she said. “Graduating college or high school — even kindergarten — Americans tend to celebrate or make a big deal about. In Canada, we find it to be more mundane without as many decorations.”

Modern technology is especially important when couples are not only separated by language or cultural boundaries but by distance itself.

“And of course, technology is key,” she said. “The most beautiful sound in the world is Skype’s incoming call chime …”