Our Fulbright Programs started with a Fulbright Gateway Orientation. As with any event these days, there was a Facebook group so that grantees could meet and find people who were going to our same host university. Tobi and I met there. We were both going to be studying at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and we started talking online. It was great to meet someone who was going through the same things as I was, and it was comforting to know that I would already have a friend in the city that would be home for the next two years.
August 20, 2012 came fast. It was the day I was to fly from Mexico City to Jackson, Mississippi for my Fulbright Gateway Orientation. It was an exciting time, and I was thrilled to meet so many other grantees. Tobi and I met after the first orientation session, when everyone was just standing around meeting new people. Suddenly, he came up to me and said, “You’re Mariana.” I remember thinking to myself that I really liked him when we went to a Mexican restaurant later and he asked me what to order. I suggested a popular beer cocktail called a Michelada. I didn’t think he would like it because Germans have a specific way they like their beer and that is with, well, just beer. This cocktail had everything from lime juice to hot sauce—he liked it. Success!
Once in Amherst, we settled in to our studies and life. Tobi was studying computer science and I was getting my master’s in educational technology. Despite our busy academic lives, Tobi and I saw each other often, as we met with the other Fulbrighters in the area. I liked Tobi. He was funny, very smart, and challenged of all the stereotypes I had of Germans (e.g., he is often late to things!). Our relationship developed organically. We went from spending time with other friends, to just the two of us. We talked a lot about family, about our countries, and about what we were learning in school. On a cold night in November, we went out to get Persian food and a bacon and maple syrup doughnut for dessert. That night I kissed him, and our relationship began.
We somehow managed to keep a balance that allowed us to both graduate with honors and nourish a new relationship. We only saw each other after class in the evenings. When we had papers to write, we worked on our papers, and love had to wait. The summer after we met, we both were offered internships in New York City. I was working for an education startup and Tobi was working as a Data Scientist in another startup. A great thing about loving a Fulbrighter is that you can have deep, meaningful, and intelligent conversations about various topics that go on for hours. But the worst part of loving a Fulbrighter is that he eventually has to leave. We spent three months living together and enjoying New York City before Tobi had to go back to Germany and I stayed behind to complete my degree.
We spent over a year apart, relying on FaceTime and WhatsApp to communicate. Despite the fact that we got to see each other three times during that period, it was the longest year of my life. The airport became the best and the worst place in the world. It was hard to focus on writing my thesis when all I wanted to do was see him, but believe it or not, the time difference helped. I studied while he slept and the other way around. We spent our graduations apart, but spoke every day and wrote emails frequently. Somehow we managed to make it. It was hard work, but it was worth it.
Tobi was offered a wonderful job at Amazon Berlin and asked me if I would like to move to Germany with him. It was a hard decision because I was already in a position in a university in Mexico that I loved, but Germany also offered exciting opportunities. After a lot of thinking, I made the move, and things became progressively better. Tobi has a job he loves, I am searching for a PhD position, and we live on the same continent again! On December 21st, 2015, we got married in Berlin with our family and some friends! The big Mexican wedding will be on April 2, 2016, in case any Fulbrighters in Mexico want to come.