So another friend just got married. And now, like many of my female peers, I’ve found myself daydreaming about future wedding plans.
My best ideas: A ceremony on a beach in Thailand, reminiscent of my childhood family vacations in Malaysia; a traditional 10-course Chinese banquet reception, with a special request for Singaporean chili crab; and, if this really were all about me, a durian ice-cream wedding cake to top it all off.
Okay, so perhaps the durian ice-cream cake won’t be such a big hit. But I’m convinced that, down to the tiniest details, TCK weddings are fundamentally reflective of our international lives. From friends to food, weddings are a life event where TCKs can attempt to bring together all aspects of our global lives.
It starts with the guest list. With family and friends scattered across the globe, uniting a hodge-podge of world citizens is no small feat.
“It was challenging,” Sharon Craig Economides, 26, a TCK who grew up in Pakistan, said.
Sharon married Tim Economides, 27, last October in Sonoma, California. Although Sharon now lives in California, she spent the first 13 years of her life in Pakistan. Today, her parents work there as humanitarian workers for Afghan refugees. Like many TCKs, Sharon’s network of friends and family defy national boundaries.
“Finland was the farthest [flight],” she explained. “She was my maid of honor. She’s Finnish-British and we went to high school together, [she’s] also a TCK.”
Sharon rattles off a list of other international guests—a friend who had just returned from the Peace Corps in Africa, another friend from Germany, and of course, her parents, who flew in from Pakistan.
In fact, Tim and Sharon had originally planned to get married in the summer of 2009, but in an attempt to simplify logistics, her parents suggested they push their wedding up a few months and schedule it during their pre-planned visit to California in October 2008.
“That accelerated everything,” she said.
For other couples, the challenge of uniting one’s international entourage can be enough to convince them to keep things simple. Simon Attley, 34, who grew up in England, Japan and the U.S., said that for his extended family, flying from England to Napa, California for the wedding was just too expensive.
“Getting married is crazy,” Attley said about the planning process.
He and his wife, Izumi Kamitami, 31, were married on Sept. 20 last year at a vineyard estate in Napa Valley. It’s a wedding venue with a stunning view of California’s wine country, but unfortunately he couldn’t share it with friends and family from Kobe, Japan and Liverpool, England – it was too long of a trek. For similar reasons, his wife’s mother was the only family member from her side who flew from Japan for their wedding.
Similarly, Sasha Morozoff, 35, who grew up in Kobe, Japan but is of Russian descent, decided with his wife, Lisa, 32, to have a small, intimate wedding. They married on April 27, 2007 by a sakura cherry-blossom tree, in bloom, at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
With 10 people at the ceremony—all of whom were family—and 75 people at the reception, their wedding was a celebration focused on their families.
“We had no bridesmaids, no best men,” Morozoff said. “It was all family.”
Their family-focused decision kept the planning process simple. In fact, Sasha and Lisa didn’t find the ceremony venue until the day before the wedding. Yet because the ceremony consisted of just 10 family members, invitations were not an issue, and their seemingly last-minute decision actually worked out well.
But keeping their wedding to family members was not just for logistical reasons, Sasha explains. For him and Lisa, strong family values is a core ideal that they share, and one which, he admits, initially drew him to her. In fact, despite their different religious beliefs—he was raised Russian-Orthodox and she is a practicing Mormon—their shared views on the importance of the family still resonate.
“Being a TCK, not having a country, my family is it,” Morozoff said. “I identify with Russian refugees, who live in Japan, and went to international schools. There’s no one else like that. Except my family.”
For Anne Dodge Carroll, 23, an American adopted from Taiwan and raised in Singapore, making sure family members were present at the wedding meant being a little creative.
Like Sasha and Lisa Morozoff, Anne and her husband Crew made the decision early on to keep the wedding to family members only. But for health reasons, Crew’s mother, who lives in South Carolina, wasn’t able to travel to the wedding. The solution? Skype. They had two weddings: first, a legal ceremony in Crew’s living room in Singapore on March 20 2008, and then the actual wedding in Phuket, Thailand, two days later. For the first ceremony, Crew’s MacBook Pro—placed carefully on their living room chair— connected Singapore and Lancaster, South Carolina via webcam.
“Do you hear that, Mom?” Dr Lee Suan Yew, their officiator, said to the computer. “They’re married!”
Still, whether forty or four hundred, the guest list is just one of many indicators of a TCK’s cross-cultural upbringing. In fact, it’s often the unassuming details during the wedding that most clearly reflect one’s international experiences.
Simon Attley explains that during their reception, a Japanese makeup artist changed his wife, Izumi, from her white wedding dress, a Western tradition, to a Japanese kimono, painting her face with chalk-white makeup and resetting her hair in a lavish, kabuki hairstyle.
“My sister did [the wardrobe change] too,” he says, “Kimono, makeup, hair.”
In Sharon and Tim Economides’ wedding, their experiences in Pakistan, particularly with the Afghan culture, undeniably influenced their celebration planning.
Sharon explains that wedding preparations actually began years before. In 2000, Tim Economides made his first trip to Pakistan, where he bought a beautiful white embroidered shawl. Eight years later, that shawl became Sharon’s wedding veil, a long, elegant train that gently trailed behind her as she walked down the aisle.
“He bought it then as an 18-year old to give to his future bride,” Sharon, from Pakistan, said. “He didn’t know that I was going to wear it.”
The day before the ceremony, Sharon and her bridesmaids had a henna party, a Pakistani wedding tradition. A henna artist decorated Sharon’s and the bridesmaids’ hands and feet with intricate celebratory designs.
“It was kind of like a bachelorette party… It was the only time before the wedding that I got to hang out with the bridesmaids, because they flew in from everywhere,” she said.
Indeed, what many local Americans friends consider “exotic” is often nothing out of the ordinary for TCKs. But the vice versa is also true, particularly when TCKs choose their honeymoon locations. For Patrick Linton, an American who grew up in Tokyo and Singapore, exploring the United States with his new wife, Yoshie Takeda Linton, 26, sounded like the perfect honeymoon plan.
“Because neither of us had grown up in the US, we decided to use the opportunity to see the country,” he said.
He and Yoshie met at an international student party in Belmont University, Tennessee—she was from Nara, Japan, but was studying English and Music in the US on an exchange program—and got married on July 19, 2007 in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Although Linton was born in Burlington, Vermont, he admits, “I honestly have never really been there, at least not that I can remember.”
At age three Linton moved to Tokyo, then at 11, Singapore. Patrick didn’t move back to the US until college—and even then, he didn’t stay put, studying abroad in Oxford, UK, Hong Kong, and Beijing, China. Familiar with flying to far-off destinations, the next place they wanted to explore was, well, right where he was. Over the course of two weeks, they drove from Boston to San Francisco, stopping at different cities along the way.
Similarly, finding a new, unexplored destination was the goal for Sharon and Tim Economides’ honeymoon.
“Both of us traveled so much, we wanted to go somewhere both of us had never been to before,” she said.
Besides growing up in Pakistan, Sharon had worked in the Philippines and Russia while getting her undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley. She and Tim toyed with ideas like Iceland, or the Seychelles. But they soon realized that, like Patrick and Yoshie Linton, they didn’t have to look very far.
“It was so ironic because it seems so cliché for a honeymoon…” she laughs. “We ended both going to Mexico. Neither of us had been to Mexico.”
Indeed, TCKs often make unusual choices when it comes to planning their weddings. We blur the lines between the foreign and the familiar—Afghan carpets on a traditional wedding aisle, a “skyped” wedding ceremony connecting Singapore and South Carolina, a classic wedding veil tailored from a Pakistani shawl. But perhaps the reason why TCK weddings are so culturally distinctive is because—like everything else in our lives—it’s a jigsaw of cultural experiences, seemingly random but somehow, in the end, fitting together perfectly.