Cross Border Love During a Pandemic
Myrtle Alegado: With today’s technology the world doesn’t seem so large, and we can easily connect with friends and family. It has even made it easier to find a romantic love interest across borders, or even across the world, and stay in a long-distance relationship. We’ll discuss more about this in our episode today.
Welcome to Happy Life, a podcast brought to you by INC Media Audio that aims to help newlyweds navigate through the first years of marriage. I’m your host, Myrtle Alegado, and I’ve been married to my husband, Paul, since 1999. And later, we’ll hear some Bible-based advice through Brother Felmar Serreno, a minister of the gospel in the Church Of Christ.
Inspiration to make your marriage thrive, you’re listening to Happy Life.
Myrtle: Our newlyweds, for this Happy Life episode, are a long-distance, cross border, transnational love story success! Zachary is originally from Toronto, Canada, and Isabelle is from the Bay Area of Northern California.
Thanks for agreeing to chat with us today on Happy Life, Zach and Isabelle.
Zachary Sese: Hello, Myrtle. Hello, everyone. Thank you.
Isabelle Sese: Hi, Myrtle. Thank you for having us.
Myrtle: So how was your day today?
Zachary: Not bad. We’re here traveling towards an area in Wyoming, a long drive.
Isabelle: Yeah, it was a long drive. This is our seventh state in the past seven days.
Zachary: We’ve traveled seven states in seven days, yeah.
Myrtle: Wow! Well, we appreciate that you’re joining us today, despite your traveling, and despite all the distance that you’ve logged on your car probably.
So we’ve had a lot of previous Happy Life guests who were also in long-distance relationships before marriage, but we haven’t really discussed, in depth, the challenges of being in one. Why don’t you two share how you met, and how you got engaged, and of course eventually married.
Zachary: Before we were married, we were actually both District KADIWA presidents. It’s an organization in the Church Of Christ for the youth that’s aged 18 and up who aren’t married. In 2018, we had a KadCon. This is a conference for those members within that organization. I was actually District KADIWA vice president at the time. Part of this activity is that we recorded something with KADIWA officers all across North America, and these videos would be shown to every local [congregation] across the world.
Through these videos, that’s where I actually noticed Isabelle in one of the videos. I guess she definitely caught my eye. I started to like her from those videos. So, I guess you could say I was a fan of her, but I mentioned to a friend of mine that I thought she was cute, she was pretty. And it turned out that Isabelle had actually visited Toronto recently to attend a wedding, and the friend that I mentioned to had actually met Isabelle. So yes, it was actually interesting. We actually had mutual friends already.
Myrtle: That’s so cool.
Isabelle: Yeah, so two months after that KadCon, late 2018 so probably late December and even early January 2019, the friend that Zach told that I was cute, shout out to Chryselle, she actually messaged me. She said that she had friends who were visiting the Bay Area for vacation. So she asked if I could meet up with them and tour them around. Then she eventually gave me Zach’s contact information.
So when I did reach out to Zach, I asked him for his itinerary, when they were planning to be visiting. But when I found out the dates he was visiting the Bay Area, it just so happened that I was going to be in the Philippines, so we didn’t actually get to meet in person. But we did start messaging on Telegram starting from then.
Zachary: Based on that, when we started messaging, I personally thought that she had no idea I was interested in her. I thought I was playing my cards right.
Myrtle: Playing it cool?
Zachary: Yeah [laughs], but we just kept talking and sending video messages to each other. And it was when she got back to California, after her trip, we started to video chat with one another, and then in January or February 2019 I finally told her that I liked her. And then from there, she mentioned, “Hey, you know, you’ve got to ask my parents.”
So in April 2019, so just a few months after, when I was able to get enough vacation days, I flew to California and asked her parents if I could officially court her. And then, thankfully, we got engaged two years later in June of 2021. Actually, I wanted it to be sooner. I wanted to propose, actually, the year before that. But because of COVID-19, the restrictions were really tough. So, I was just waiting for that one opportunity to just be able to fly.And then we ended up getting married in January 2022.
Myrtle: Yeah, that darn COVID.
Isabelle: Oh, yeah.
Myrtle: You know, if anything, it kind of taught us patience a little bit didn’t it?
Zachary: Yeah. [laughs]
Isabelle: It definitely did.
Myrtle: Well, that was kind of a whirlwind, you know, relationship from 2019 to getting married in 2021. What were the biggest challenges in having a cross-border long-distance relationship or, you know, what people call LDR?
Zachary: See, what’s actually funny is that before I met Isabelle, I actually didn’t want to date anyone from the West Coast. I apologize to anyone from the West Coast. Just hear me out. [laughs] It’s just that it’s far from Toronto, and I always thought that there was a big challenge with the time zone. The three hours, it can get pretty, pretty difficult especially later at night.
But when we did get to see each other it was never long enough to visit, and the limited vacation days and other responsibilities, it made it really hard for us to be able to have a lot of time to really spend with one another.
Isabelle: So for my side, very opposite side of the spectrum compared to Zach. I’ve actually been in long-distance relationships, and I actually preferred it because I had a little bit more of independence. But when Zach and I were in an LDR, I thought it was way more difficult because I knew he was the one, and I wanted to be with him already, especially in person.
So, I guess the biggest challenge was to be patient while waiting to see each other in person. With the three hour time zone difference, it was definitely difficult to schedule quality time, because whenever I was sleeping, like early in the morning, he was already getting ready for work. And then whenever he was getting ready to sleep, I was just getting out of work. So, that was pretty difficult for us to coordinate, especially with our busy lives, but we found a way. He would usually just stay up till 2am and wait for me. So that’s how we were able to find our quality time.
Zachary: Actually to interject with that, it’s funny because the years that we were dating, because I really pushed myself to stay up for her to adjust to the time zone, I think all these years I’ve always been on the west coast time zone.
Myrtle: [laughs] You started training yourself early, I guess. Well you know, I completely understand, because when my husband and I were dating, way before video chats were even available by the way, he lived in Hawaii and I was in Toronto. So, our time difference was six hours.
Isabelle: Oh, wow!
Zachary: Oh, man!
Myrtle: Yeah but you know, we made it work too. So, that’s one thing you take away from long-distance relationships, right? You put in a little bit more work, but it’s worthwhile.
So is there anything you enjoyed about having a cross-border, long-distance, relationship?
Isabelle: For me, I really liked being able to focus on my life. In relationships, when both people are from the same area, you tend to see that they devote a lot of time to each other, which is not a bad thing. But from my personal experience, I felt like I always put myself on the back burner and focused on the relationship only or more. So, being in a long-distance relationship, that really allowed me to find that balance. So, I got to spend more time with my parents, I focused on my career, my responsibilities with Church, and even my self-care time, and I got to spend time with Zach because we really had to schedule everything.
Zachary: We talk about it a lot that we both really enjoyed the space. I personally felt like I had the appropriate amount of space, and even though we were apart, it [was] almost as if we had the space, but we were still together because we would video call a lot with each other. So, I could do my activities, she could do her activities. I could perform my duties, she could perform her duties, and we could do whatever we needed to do. It was enough for us, because we were still in each other’s lives. But because we were so far from each other, we were very understanding that we both had our individual lives, our responsibilities, and priorities. And we never really had any arguments about the lack of attention or not having enough time for each other. So, the physical distance made us more understanding of the fact that we had other things to attend to.
Myrtle: Yeah, and then when you do, you know, have your time together it’s almost like you cherish it a little bit more, right? Zachary: It definitely means more. We definitely valued every time when we were physically together. It really felt much more.
Myrtle: See, only LDR people know this, right? [laughs]
Zachary and Isabelle: [laugh]
Myrtle: Now aside from your video chatting, and your video calls, how else did you stay in touch and communicate with one another?
Zachary: Well, what’s interesting is that the way we actually met, per se, was through messaging. So, we were always used to communicating with one another that way. It started from text messaging, and then it evolved to sending video messages, and then eventually to video calls. So a good chunk of time, when we never hung out, was on video calls and we understood that was the nature of our relationship, and we were very understanding and supportive with that. We both used up a lot of our data usage during that time. And, you know, I would say phone plans are a lot better in America than in Canada, so it was a lot easier for her to keep up with our video calls versus me. Sometimes I had to tell her, “Sorry, I don’t have any more data. I’ve got to wait till I get home.” [laughs]
So, because of that, that we would use up our data or whatever internet we have, even when we were working at our offices, sometimes we’d stay on video call just for each other’s presence. That was enough for us. Knowing that we were far, just the fact that we know that we were there and it was almost like that was our support for each other. I promise you, we were not slacking off. [laughs]
Myrtle: Okay. [laughs]
Zachary: Actually to be honest, when we video call, I would probably say less than 50% we’re actually talking to each other.
Isabelle: It sounds really cheesy. We’re just staring at each other.
Zachary: No. [laughs]
Myrtle: No, I totally get it, because just having each other’s presence, even if you’re not saying anything, it’s a comfort knowing the other person is there. So, I totally understand.
Isabelle: Oh, yeah. And even during the pandemic, when we were just at home, or we’re doing chores, or attending meetings online, we just ended up staying on call with each other the entire time. Surprisingly, we never got tired of each other.
Myrtle: So, what were your parents’ reactions to your long-distance relationship and then, you know, getting engaged and having to decide who would move? Isabelle: So, I’m very close to my parents. I also want to say I’m the youngest child, and I’m the only daughter. So, a lot of pressures of being their daughter, but overall my parents were really supportive throughout our relationship. My dad, if anyone knows my dad, they know that he is super strict, and he was extra strict on Zach.
Myrtle: Uh oh!
Isabelle: It’s as if he knew Zach was the one, so he did things to kind of test him throughout our courtship. But my parents were really happy that they were able to see Zach loves and he takes care of me, and they know that he’s a really great guy.
So, when we got engaged and we started preparing for the wedding, I could tell the idea of me leaving the house gave them some sort of separation anxiety and empty nest syndrome, especially for my dad. My mom, you could see a little bit of that in her, but she didn’t really show it. She actually showed it way differently. The week I got engaged, so the same week, she already started sketching out how she wanted to transform my room into her home office and crafts room.
Yeah, I remember I was working from home, and she just brings in her notepad and a pen and she just walks in and just starts drawing something, like ”What are you doing?” She’s like, “I’m trying to figure out where to put all my furniture when you move out.” So yeah, she was definitely a little more eager for me to leave. She was so very supportive of me and Zach.
In terms of moving, my parents wanted me to keep my job where I currently work, because I’m very blessed to have an amazing working relationship with my bosses and co-workers and work is very stable in that company. So, from what I initially researched, when I was looking at job opportunities in Canada, it would take me a minimum of one year for me to be able to legally find work if I were to move to Canada, which would have definitely been a challenge financially. But, ultimately, my parents, they knew that it was going to be Zach and I together for life. It’s our life together. And their advice to us was to keep a devotional prayer for God’s guidance on the best place for us to go.
Myrtle: Absolutely. Before we go to you, Zach, and you know your parents’ reactions to your relationship, what do you do for work, Isabelle?
Isabelle: I’m currently an electrical design engineer for an engineering consulting firm.
Myrtle: Oh, wow.
Isabelle: Oh, yeah. A very, very difficult program, but I’m really glad I stuck it through. Myrtle: I see now. So if you moved to Canada, you would have to get recertified and whatnot.
Isabelle: Exactly, yeah.
Myrtle: Okay, I understand now. All right, Zach, you’re up.
Zachary: Well, when we first got together, my parents actually were very supportive and excited, knowing that I’m with someone that has the same values and faith. So my parents have always been the type to give me guidance on my relationships, but will also allow me to make my own decisions. I would say that was always kind of a good thing and a bad thing, because I liked it because, you know, they let me make decisions. But also sometimes when I’m confused, sometimes they’ll give me, like, a philosophical answer hoping I make the right decision. And sometimes I’m just like, “Can you just tell me what to do?” [laughs]
But jokes aside, it was really helpful that they allowed me to learn from everything. When I decided to fly to the Bay Area to visit Isabelle and ask for permission to court her, and later on to propose to her, my parents simply said, “Okay. Ask God for guidance to be sure of your decision.” That was always what they wanted, to make sure that everything that I do is reliant on God’s will and not my own.
My parents also wanted to keep me close, for sure, and wanted me to stay in Canada. And I think any parent would want their kids close, so it’s always only natural. Obviously, they hoped Isabelle would move to Canada, but they knew that wherever we ended up would be what God’s answers to our prayers were for us. So, maybe it was a bit hard, but they were more happy knowing that where we’re going is what God has for us, because they know that God knows what’s best for us.
Myrtle: Mmhmm, I’m sure that it was a little hard for them to let go, but they know God’s got you, right?
Well, when you got engaged, you know, aside from your work situations, what were the other things you looked into regarding moving after you got married?
Isabelle: So, when Zach just finished his master’s and he wanted a career change in that field, we thought that it was a really great opportunity to take advantage of the different job opportunities the Bay Area has to offer. And that’s pretty much what the deciding factor was for him to move to the Bay Area.
Zachary: Yeah, because we both had stable jobs. With me trying to find my position and striving for a career change, it just made sense for me to move to the Bay while Isabelle stayed at her job, because hers was, you know, she was really sure of what she’s doing already. Our only concern was when I would be able to work, because I would be waiting for my work visa to be approved. That was the only, I guess, caveat. I don’t exactly enjoy not working, but we knew that it would be a short-term, temporary, concern.
Isabelle: We definitely do consider relocating to Canada one day. That was honestly our initial choice because of wanting to stay close to Zach’s parents. And yeah, the free health care would be very beneficial, especially when we decide to start a family. Zach loves the snow, the cold winters, and buying coffee from his favorite Canadian coffee shop every day. I would just have to adjust my sunny California standards whenever we do decide to move out there.
Myrtle: Yes, get used to the snow! [laughs] What was the process you underwent to see how and if Zach would be able to move there? Isabelle: We researched the immigration forms and the legalities of Zach moving to the Bay Area. Once we figured out what we needed to do as well as the timeline, we actually had an immigration lawyer consulting us throughout this process, we went straight into apartment hunting. Zach actually flew into California two months before the wedding. So, our wedding was in January, he moved in November. And he moved early so that he could start helping with the final logistics of our wedding planning as well as with the apartment hunting, and he stayed with one of our friends during that time.
So throughout those two months, he really dedicated a lot of time to researching areas that we wanted to live [in], especially somewhere close to work. Because anyone who’s listening to this podcast, if you’re familiar with any metropolitan city, traffic is really bad. So, I definitely wanted to live closer to where I worked. We also researched the amenities we really wanted to have, one of which was an in-unit laundry, and then of course what would fit our budget.
Zachary: You know, it was really timely because once we found a place we were interested in, the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday rolled around, which meant Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals.
Zachary: We bought our first apartment home basics, like bedding, cookware, and did our best to look for any used or unwanted furniture we could use. We pretty much got everything in our apartment on Cyber Monday.
Isabelle: Oh yeah, and we stored everything in my small bedroom at my parents’ house. Once we found that apartment, Zach moved into it two weeks before the wedding to really prepare and set everything up before the wedding day, and that helped tremendously. It was definitely like a weight lifted off our shoulders so that we had a place to go to right after we got married.
Myrtle: Must have been exciting too, that feeling of knowing you have a home, you know, right after your wedding.
Zachary: Oh, definitely. It was really comfortable knowing that living there, even for the first week, and saying, “Oh, this is our home.” I just have to get used to I won’t see snow.
But I would say the most difficult part of the moving process was the moving day. We picked up the moving truck, loaded it with all of our belongings and furniture, drove the truck about an hour away, and unloaded it at the apartment, just the two of us. It was a solid workout.
Myrtle: I can imagine.
Zachary: It was the most strenuous but most rewarding workout we had. And I think it was also a good experience for us, because it also gave us an instance of team building for us in our relationship. So, it was great.
Myrtle: Moving can definitely be pretty stressful, but if you work together, you know, and that’s an important thing to learn early on in your marriage, right, that teamwork? So, that’s pretty awesome that you guys have that. There’s definitely a lot to consider when it comes to moving from one country to another, but I’m glad it all worked out for you both.
Right now I’d like to welcome back Brother Felmar Serreno, a minister of the gospel in the Church Of Christ. Hi again, Brother Felmar. It’s always nice to have you here with us on Happy Life.
Brother Felmar Serreno: Hi, Myrtle! Hi, Zach and Isabelle, and hello to everybody tuning in. Well, like you mentioned at the outset, Myrtle, this isn’t the first time we’ve had guests on the show who are the product of LDR or long-distance relationship. Our avid listeners are well aware that in those previous episodes, one thing to be noticed is how our guests spoke of prayer, how communicating with God regularly has been a huge factor for the stability of their relationship.
And one of the reasons behind that is there’s only so much you can know about a person through text messaging or video calls. I mean, how can you gauge true compatibility when you’re both in different time zones, when visiting each other only lasts a couple of days, or when you haven’t even tested the waters yet on how you handle disagreements and other challenges together as a team? Nevertheless, there is someone we can turn to, and should turn to, for guidance on whether or not this relationship is really meant to go the distance, no pun intended, despite the concerns that a long-distance relationship has, and who is that? None other than the Lord our God.
But why turn to God? Why conduct devotional prayers to Him regarding your courtship or engagement? Because as we’ve learned in previous episodes, a true spouse comes from God. That’s based on Proverbs, chapter 19, verse 14. For today’s Bible-based advice, there’s something we’d like to highlight that ought to be included in the devotional prayers of a man and woman who are in courtship or engagement, long-distance or not but especially if it’s long-distance. So, what is an important thing the both of you should be praying together about? We turn to the book of Colossians, chapter three, verse 14, in The Good News Translation, for the answer. I quote:
And to all these qualities add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity.
[Colossians 3:14 Good News Translation]
Brother Felmar: If you are truly sincere about the relationship you’re in, why wouldn’t you pray for that, right, that your affections, or your feelings, or true love for each other would grow? And why is this important? So that there will be unity, according to the Bible. If a man and a woman who are in a long-distance relationship are sincerely asking for unity in their devotional prayers then, by the mercy of God, He will help your relationship to grow in love and unity, in spite of the fact that you are physically apart from each other. Because think about it. You’re already miles apart from each other and then there would be a lack [of] unity? Even if just one of you is not on the same page, how can you expect a relationship like that to become something meaningful and solid?
So, that’s our Bible-based advice for today. For those who are in a long-distance relationship, if you’re serious and sincere about it, then you should be praying together. And what’s an important thing to pray for? That God would help you to overcome the challenges of a long-distance relationship, and that He would help you both grow in love for each other, so that there will be unity in your relationship.
As a side note, if neither of you are ready to hold this devotional prayer, well then, I’d say it doesn’t sound like the relationship is serious. [The] thing is though, if the relationship isn’t serious, then what’s the point? You see that’s the danger that others step into, a “relationship” without true direction. Things like casual dating either end in feelings getting hurt, families in conflict, or poor life choices. So again, if you’re not ready to hold devotional prayers about your courtship, whether long-distance or not, much better to focus on the other priorities of life in the meantime, like succeeding in school, building your career, and edifying our spiritual life.
Myrtle: That was a wonderful Bible verse and reminder about the importance of prayer, Brother Felmar. Thanks for sharing that with us today.
Isabelle and Zachary, do you have any tips now for other long-distance relationship couples in a cross-border, transnational, or international relationship, especially when it comes to dealing with immigration?
Isabelle: Some advice I would like to offer is document as much as you can about your relationship. So, save everything like photos, letters, messages, anything that shows proof of legitimacy of your relationship. I think those are the key things in applying for immigration. Thankfully, it’s a lot easier to save that information, because we’ve gone almost fully digital, but it can also be very overwhelming. Because I know with Zach and I, we have three years worth of photos and you can’t send all of them. You have to really be selective of those things. So yeah, document as much as you can.
Zachary: We pretty much chose the photos that showed our best angles. No, no, I’m kidding. [laughs] But I would say, something we didn’t plan for was our change in who was moving where, and especially with the pandemic it affected how quickly one can be approved for immigration. But what I would say is don’t let the immigration timeline affect how you view your plans either. Ultimately the goal is to stay together, especially after marriage.
Myrtle: One hundred percent, yes. I agree. How did having the same faith as members of the Church Of Christ help you in your cross-border relationship?
Zachary: Having the same faith was pretty much the foundation of our relationship. It’s how we met. It’s how we found out our common interests. It’s how we progressed in our lives, individually and together. Sharing the same faith means always sharing the same understanding when it comes to priorities and values.
Isabelle: Even when we have disagreements, the first thing we do is ask God for the right answers. So we’re constantly on the same page in our relationship, because we know that we should do what God wants.
Myrtle: And if you don’t mind, can you share what you do pray about together?
Zachary: We always ask for peace, love, and harmony in our relationship. We always ask for support and understanding for each other, especially in the performance of our duties in the Church.
When we were still dating, we asked God if it was His will for us to be bound as one. When we got engaged, we thanked God for blessing us with the engagement. We prayed to God to guide us in our wedding plans and to bless us in our future marriage. As per the advice from both of our parents, we also prayed for guidance about where we should live and for us to remain active in our duties wherever we go.
Isabelle: Now that we’re married, we ask God to give us the qualities and characteristics needed for us to fulfill our duties as husband and wife. We always ask that God provides us with the things that we need, especially as we’re in the stage of praying for a family together.
Zachary: So pretty much always, always pray. Knowing we have God in our lives gives us the courage and hope we need to go through everything, such as when we went through the very extensive immigration process. We know that those are challenges, but that’s why we want to make sure that we rely on God. So we pray, ask God for help.
Myrtle: Absolutely. Well, here’s kind of a light-hearted final question for you both. When you first got together and were dating, what were the differences you noticed between Canada and the United States? It has probably changed since I became part of the, what I like to call, ‘CanaRican’ couples. So what are your thoughts on, you know, the differences you noticed?
Isabelle: It’s hard for me to generalize pros about the U.S. because I only grew up in California. Though it’s a huge state, it’s only one of the many states in the U.S., but because of that I never really felt what a true winter felt like. So to me, that’s a pro! So the worst weather that we have to go through in California is pretty much heavy rain, and even then the heavy rain doesn’t last very long.
I have family who actually live in Canada, so in Saskatchewan, and they tell me about how often they have to shovel snow just to get into their cars or get out of the driveway. I definitely don’t feel like I’m missing out. But other than the weather, I feel like Canadians in general are so much nicer than Californians, probably because we live a faster way of life and probably because Canadians have universal health care. [laughs]
Zachary: I would say for me, a con about California is that they have no winter. I like winter, I must admit. A pro, particularly in California, is the quality of coffee. Tim Horton’s is great. That’s part of our culture in Canada. But coming to California, there is so much more to learn about coffee that I never knew and just add that appreciation for it. And also the abundance of fast food. Many might say that that’s not a good thing but, hey, having many options is great.
To be honest, I still have trouble conceptualizing how far one mile is, and Isabelle has seen my struggle over these past few months. So to help me out, she has forced herself to convert to kilometers on Google Maps. So she said she’s pretty much given up on me learning it. So, she’s just going to adjust to kilometers for me.
But in general, those are pretty much some of the things that I noticed are different, but overall I’m really enjoying living here.
Myrtle: I totally agree with, you know, our much loved Canadian coffee, but I have to say I do love the minty iced coffee at Philz in the Bay Area. Anybody who’s been to the Bay Area knows this coffee with the minty leaves in it…..so good!
Zachary: Yes, that is true. That is very true.
Myrtle: Well, Zach and Isabelle, it was so awesome to have you both here with us on Happy Life, and hopefully you enjoyed your time with us as well.
Isabelle: Thank you so much!
Zachary: Thank you so much, Myrtle, and to all of Happy Life. We enjoyed. Thank you for having us. We really enjoyed it.
Isabelle: Thank you so much, Myrtle, for having us, and thank you to everyone who’s tuning in.
Myrtle: Being in a cross-border, transnational, relationship allows you to experience the best of both worlds in my opinion. There are definitely some decisions to be made when it comes to figuring out who will move where but, ultimately, as long as you’re together, that’s all that matters.
And that brings us to the end of today’s episode. To learn more about Christian relationships, please visit incmedia.org. If you’d like to say hi, send us a question, or see who our newlywed guests are, you can visit our Instagram account: @happylife.podcast. Please also remember to share our podcast with your family and friends and all the newlyweds that you know.
Thank you, from all of us here on the Happy Life team. We’re so glad you joined us today and hope we’ve all been reminded about the blessings of marriage.