Happy Valentine’s Day! Today we celebrate an international couple, Jia-Haw Chiem from Malaysia and Monrada Yamkasikorn from Thailand.
When Jia-Haw Chiem first met Monrada Yamkasikorn in 2010, he didn’t really think twice about it.
Jia-Haw was the vice president of the International Advisory Committee at the University of Oklahoma. He helped conduct interviews for open positions in the organization and he first met Monrada while interviewing her for a subcommittee position.
She received the position. From there, they worked on several events together. Each event, they became closer and closer. Being from the same region of the world, they bonded faster. They worked late together, started hanging out more often.
The following year Jia-Haw became president and Monrada the special events chair. Still organizing events together and hanging out all the time.
It wasn’t until that summer in 2011 when Monrada left the University of Oklahoma to do an internship in China that Jia-Haw realized his feelings went a little deeper.
“When she left, I realized you don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” Jia-Haw said.
“When I came back to the U.S. he kept asking me these strange questions, like ‘Are you liking someone right now?'” Monrada laughed.
In fall 2011 while organizing a pep rally and dance for the organization it was Monrada’s friend from Nepal who finally dropped the news Jia-Haw liked her. But she didn’t really think anything of it because at the time, she was mad at him.
“Oh I got mad at him because we had an argument about the work we do together in the organization,” Monrada explained. “I said that he doesn’t really help me. So I got mad at him. I didn’t talk to him for weeks!”
A couple of weeks later she went to a Halloween event and that was when Jia-Haw made his move. He had heard someone else liked Monrada so it was now or never.
Dressed in an orange jumpsuit with photos of Monrada taped all over him, at the party he apologized and declared his love.
“I wasn’t expecting it, I started crying,” Monrada laughed. “He used to tell me I was like a sister.”
That was Halloween 2011. They have been together ever since.
Along the way, they’ve had to learn to respect their differences. They may be from the same region of the world, but they differ on some major aspects. One being religion.
“He’s Christian and I’m Buddhist,” Monrada explained. “I want to try to understand his beliefs, I try to go to church. It was difficult at first for him to go to temple with me. I never have God in my life. We usually get into arguments.”
Also in Thailand, it’s very important that the feet stay away from the head. Books don’t belong on the floor either.
“Books are seen in high regard, so they need to be on the bookshelf,” Monrada explained. Another adjustment for Jia-Haw.
“I’ve lived in the U.S. since high school and went to school in Wales,” Jia-Haw said. “It’s funny we’re both from Asian descent but communication is still very important.”
Communication will be even more important come this May. Both are graduating from the University of Oklahoma and not sure where each one will end up. Also, at graduation is when both families will come together.
“This is my first time dating an Asian-roots girl, [my parents] are happy about that,” Jia-Haw said. “For them they are happy, but they are about the religion thing, thinking about where the relationship will go, if I would propose, they might think twice about [the relationship]. But they have always asked about her and always care.”
“I told my mom, I didn’t tell my dad [about Jia-Haw],” Monrada explained. “I’m scared of telling him. When you say you’re dating, that means ‘he’s the one’. I don’t want to have secrets. When I talk to my dad I refer to [Jia-Haw] as my friend.”
At first Jia-Haw was upset that Monrada didn’t want to tell both her parents about the relationship.
“I can understand, but I was upset at first,” Jia-Haw said. “You don’t hide your relationship in the U.S. When you get in a relationship, you tell your family. But I’m just trying to be understanding.”
Monrada has a plan to tell her dad before he comes to graduation so he knows.
“I’m sure he knows from my mom, but I will tell him. My mom said as long as he’s from a good family, good education, doesn’t smoke or drink, the family can be flexible on religion.”
Looking ahead to the future and after graduation, the couple seems prepared for whatever lies ahead. While dating, Monrada studied abroad for six months in Peru so the couple had practice being in a long distance relationship.
“You don’t know what is going to happen, but if it’s meant to be something will happen,” Jia-Haw explained. “When I first interviewed her, I didn’t know I was going to date her. I know it will work out.”
Why do you love Monrada?
“She understands me best. But what draws me is she is very humble in her achievements and that’s what I find attractive. She can dance really well and does a lot of things really well. She has a humble heart and doesn’t blow her own horn. She gives everyone advice. When I need advice I go to her and she comforts me. When I have a long day, she knows right away and asked what happened.”
Why do you love Jia-Haw?
“He’s a really kind person. He helps everyone without expecting anything back. He has a kind heart and I’m confident he won’t hurt me and he always forgives me. I haven’t seen anyone who hates him.”