I met Leslie through Facebook. If that doesn’t sound romantic, I don’t know what does! She had such an interesting story for the International Couples Series, intertwined with advice, tips, and plain wisdom. Her interview is a bit different than most that I’ve featured in this series. She is a single lady who is DEFINITELY a force to be reckoned with. I haven’t had the chance to meet Leslie in person, but I can tell by her responses and our interactions that she is strong, confident, and knows what she wants!
Her love story is a bit different than the normal couples. She isn’t dating anyone (anymore), she still lives abroad, and she is co-parenting with her ex-partner! I can’t wait for y’all to read about her funny stories, insightful knowledge and get to know her better. She’s been living abroad for almost 13 years now, can she be considered a local?
The Quirky Pineapple: Tell me about your love story or stories, if you have more than one! Where did you both meet, who made the first move, how did it come about? How long were you two together before it ended?
Leslie: I’ve had a number of relationships in Uganda – I’ve lived here full time since 2004. Typically you meet new people through existing friends. Men in Uganda hit on ALL foreign women, so just meeting on the street, it’s not easy to separate the wheat from the chaff!
My relationships ranged from 6 months to 3 years. My current relationship is not domestic, we don’t have sex (anymore!), but we co-parent an amazing little boy called Lucas. We have been on-again, off-again since early 2012. We mutually agreed we shouldn’t be together in mid-2015. However, we’ll always be a part of each other’s lives because of our little dude. Lucas’ dad is Ugandan, but has lived in Norway for the past 15 years. Our life together was already complicated without that third culture.
Cross-cultural, long-distance, third culture relationships are FREAKING hard. Since we’re both foreigners (somehow) in each other’s culture, we tended to anticipate each other. And we kept falling short because neither of us really belong anywhere anymore. But truthfully, I think we can’t stay together more because of clashing personalities, rather than cultural differences. We’re both very ambitious leaders – not partners!
TQP: Where are you living now? If it’s not your home country, why there? What do you like about it?
Leslie: I’m living in Uganda, although originate from Canada. I’ve been here for almost 12 years and I’m not going anywhere. Uganda is home. I love that Uganda is more about relationships than business. I love the sense of community. I love the lifestyle. And I love the climate.
TQP: What languages do you both speak? Which common language do you both communicate in?
Leslie: I speak English and just enough Luganda to be dangerous. He speaks Luganda, Norwegian, and English. This is likely the toughest thing in a cross-cultural relationship. We have to communicate in my first language – which gives me the (unfair) advantage.
TQP: What are your nationalities? What are your ethnic backgrounds?
Leslie: I’m a Canadian of Eastern European descent. He’s Ugandan, a true Muganda.
TQP: What was the most frustrating thing about being in an international and intercultural relationship?
Leslie: Communication! Communication! Communication! Men and women communicate differently already, now throw culture in there and it just makes a further mess. It doesn’t matter that we’re both international, we simply value communication differently.
TQP: What was the one thing about your ex-partner’s culture that was the hardest to get used to?
Leslie: That no one says “no” (it’s very culturally inappropriate) or puts a stop to problems. People tend to “keep quiet” and persevere when having trouble at work, home, school, etc. It’s almost impossible to put right an injustice.
TQP: What was the one thing about your ex-partner’s culture that you loved the most?
Leslie: I love that people, community, and relationships, are more important than business and making money. I love that kids are allowed to be kids here. I love how family oriented the whole country is. I’m so happy to be able to raise my son in this sort of environment. I’ve written extensively on this topic.
TQP: What have you adopted from your ex-partner’s culture that you would try (or want) to incorporate into your own?
Leslie: Oh my god, this is very hard for me to put in words since I’ve been here so long and live like a local. I came here not because of a relationship, but because I wanted out of Canada! I was lucky enough to randomly find Uganda, start my own non-profit, and be able to stay. I wrote a post about how Ugandan I’ve become over the years. I think it’s cute!
TQP: Can you describe a funny situation when you were “lost in translation/culture”?
Leslie: The first boyfriend I had in Uganda was totally local. He’d never traveled abroad, so hadn’t been exposed to cultures other than his own. I had only been in Uganda a few months, so was equally in the dark, culturally. When he would sleep over, upon waking, I’d ask him if he’d like a cup of coffee (as any Canadian would). He’d say “yes”. I’d ask if he’d like cream and sugar. He’d say “yes”. Every time. It wasn’t until a few months later that he admitted he was severely lactose intolerant and was going off to work with a bad stomach after drinking my milky coffee. I was shocked!
I was all “dude, why didn’t you say you didn’t want milk?” In Kiganda culture, you don’t offer food, you serve it (my mistake). On his side, to be a polite/proper guest, he can’t refuse, he must consume. Typically, there aren’t many choices available, and everyone pretty much consumes the same stuff. This is a perfect example of the problems arising when no one can say “no”! We had a similar issue with my cooking. I use fresh chillies in all my food. He had no tolerance for spicy food. I was killing the guy, but he culturally couldn’t (and didn’t) say a thing! He ate the food, so I never realized there was a problem. I did end up expanding his palate though.
After that relationship ended (not because of anything cultural, but because he was getting a little too much into the drink!) I vowed not to date men who hadn’t traveled. The novelty had worn off. It’s just too hard explaining yourself all the time. Relationships are hard enough as it is. I began dating international African men. And it’s been great!
TQP: What has been the biggest lesson that you learned from your past international relationship(s)?
Leslie: I know I can’t marry a Ugandan man. I’m not able to submit to the level that is needed to be a proper Kiganda wife. Nor do I want to. I love my single life. I may have fantasized about it years ago, but the realities of married life in Uganda are just too hard to ignore.
TQP: Do you have any suggestions or advice for people who find themselves in an international, intercultural or interlanguage relationship?
Leslie: Totally go for it, and have fun exploring. One of the best things a single girl in a foreign country can do is get a local boyfriend. They know where all the cool places are, can expose you to a new culture in a way traveling can’t, and it’s fun sharing your foreign ways with someone on an intimate level.
Don’t start talking about marriage until you’ve actually lived in your partner’s culture. Make female friends from his culture that are open about their own relationships, so you understand what men from that culture really expect from a wife and marriage. See how women from his culture are generally valued in their relationships. Observe parenting and extended family interactions. These will all be very important, and you will not be able to control these issues if you are planning to settle in his culture.
Also, if you begin fighting all the time and just can’t seem to find peace, recognize it and move on. Don’t force it. Don’t get stuck in it. Don’t make each other miserable. If you can help it, don’t use your relationship as a base for anyone’s immigration status. If you have relocated, build a life outside of your relationship. This will not only take pressure off the relationship, it will ensure you have options to stay even if things don’t work out.
TQP: Bonus questions! I loved reading all of Leslie’s answers and insightful knowledge and wisdom! Since Leslie’s International Love Story is so different than the past stories, I asked her to answer a few extra questions for me (:
TQP: What was the craziest adventure you embarked on together?
Leslie: Having a child! Lucas is my first and only child. His dad has other kids that he’s raising with an ex, so knows how to be a great part-time parent. He takes interest in all his kids and when he’s in Uganda, Lucas is with him most of the time. Totally awesome down time for me! He wants to impart his culture on his boy. I’m extremely supportive of this. I’m giving Lucas the most Ugandan upbringing I can, but it’s softened by my Canadian culture. I couldn’t be happier that dad is around, even if I don’t want to share a roof with him!
TQP: Could you describe a little about what happened, that the relationship ended?
Leslie: We get along great, as long as we’re not in a domestic relationship. We’re both sensible, practical people. We just can’t be together. Neither of us want to submit. And cooperation wasn’t working. So we decided not to force it just because we have a kid together.
TQP: If fate brought you two back together, would you give it another shot?
Leslie: We’ll be a part of each other’s lives forever – we have an amazing son who has the right to both his parents. Who knows what the future will bring.
TQP: Any advice or tips about the visa, marriage application, registration, tips on planning a wedding, getting a divorce, raising a child, etc?
Leslie: If you’re moving to the new culture (especially if you’re female), know that you’ll have to give up your culture when it comes to things like marriage, divorce, parenting, etc. Remember, you are the weird one and this world is generally run by men! Further, local laws differ in every country. Make sure you know what you are getting into before making any commitments.
TQP: What have you learned to appreciate more of, now that you’re not in an international, intercultural and interlanguage relationship?
Leslie: I love that I am socially and financially independent and can live my life on my terms. I live in a local neighbourhood, send my kid to a local school, and eat local food – all my decisions. I remain footloose and can leave Uganda if I want. I love not answering to anyone. But, truthfully, I likely would have been like that had I never left Canada.
Thank you so much, Leslie, for sharing your insights and your love story with me! I loved getting a different perspective about international relationships and hearing about your experiences. I’ve always mentioned in my interviews that it is so inspiring to see when an international couple works hard to make it work, sacrificing and compromising, learning and growing with one another. But, I also want to emphasize the importance of having a healthy relationship, whether international or not. Your interview really touched on that subject and it’s so great to have someone who was in an international relationship (or a few) and realized that although it’s fun to share and learn new things about different cultures, it’s also important to know when the relationship isn’t working out anymore.
You can follow Leslie and her life in Uganda on Instagram and Twitter! If you’re also interested in volunteering in Uganda, check out her non-profit and you can get a bit more insight into her life as an expat who is basically a local on her blog. The boyfriend and I have been trying to plan how to get ourselves to Uganda to volunteer and meet Leslie! Thank you, again, Leslie for allowing me to share your story! If you’re in an international, intercultural and/or interlanguage relationship and would like to be featured on The Quirky Pineapple, please contact me so we can set up an interview and you can share your love story! (: