Love & China: Q and A with Luan

By Emlyn Lee, Founder

This is the second part of a two-part blog series that I started yesterday, to highlight current, past, and future participants that have either found love abroad, or are traveling or will be traveling with their loved ones on a Cultural Embrace program. Since it is Chinese New Years today (Happy Year of the Rabbit!), I thought it would be appropriate to feature two couples teaching English in China.

Today’s featured participant is Luan Lierman. I knew her as Luan Ly when I started working with her to organize her teach placement in China. Now, three years later, she is still in China, independently tutoring, learning Chinese, and working on couple of side businesses. She recruited her husband, Van, and current Cultural Embrace participants, Robin and Jeff (who were featured in the first blog)to join her in seaside Yantai, China, and even got married to Van in China. I hope you enjoy this Q&A with Luan, the same way that I am always delighted to receive email updates from her, since she has embraced the cultures in many facets of her life.

Q: Why did you go abroad alone while you were engaged to teach in China? How long were you dating before you left China?
A: Van and I got engaged in January 2008, the start of my senior year of College. We had planned to get married that summer after graduation, and of course plans change. Half way through the year, every Senior wonders what the next step will be. At this time, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do so I applied for all kinds of positions thinking something might work out. It isn’t easy for a fresh out of College to find a job, a decent job in my field of International Business anyways. With not many opportunities in Washington, I really wanted to travel abroad. What a better place than China. I had taken a year of Chinese in College so I knew the basic but I needed the environment to improve my fluency. That’s when I went online and typed in “jobs in China.” About 99% were all teach in China positions. I knew I wasn’t prepared or had any experience in teaching, but I love trying new things so it was a leap of faith.

After applying to several organizations, one being Cultural Embrace, I just waited for a reply. A couple weeks later I received a call from CE and they wanted to interview me for a teaching job in Yantai, China. I had no idea where Yantai was and at this time, I had only 3 months before I would depart. I talked to my fiancé at the time and said I was going to China for 6 months minimum, which was the contract. He told me that he found a temporary job in California, making wine. We were both excited and this is our time to explore the unknown. Of course this wasn’t easy and we had to think long and hard but finally we decided to do what we loved. I would go to China and he would go to Napa Valley. At this time, we had post-pone our wedding date to the following summer which felt wonderful. The pressure of planning and marriage was lifted off my shoulders. We both felt good about it. And this time will allow us to grow independently since we were together throughout College. We had been together for over 4 years.

Q: Were you nervous having a long distance international relationship, and how did you deal with the long distance?
A: Long distance relationships are never easy. I hate it! The longest long distance we did was about 3 months when I studied abroad in China my junior year. That was actually one of the main reasons why I wanted to come back to China. During the studied abroad trip, my Chinese language ability improved tremendously. All I needed was to be in China. Needless to say, we didn’t like being apart but what can you do when two people have different wants and dreams. That’s why marriage is not easy but you go into the promise with the hope that love will lead the way.

Q: How did your experience in China change when your fiancé came to teach in China too?
A: When Van came to visit me in December, I was more than thrilled. It had been almost 4 months since I last saw him. He came on a 1 month tourist visa thinking he was going to hang out in China and then head to New Zealand for more wine making. That was the plan, and plans change. He decided to stay with me and earned more money in China than he would if he went to New Zealand. Money unfortunately was a main priority since we were planning on getting married that summer, 2009.


Before Van came, I cried the first couple weeks I was in China. Not because I didn’t like being in China, but I was alone and teaching was overwhelming. I arrived in late early Sept. when I was supposed to be there in late August due to visa delay and complications. School started that first week of Sept. as well. I came on the 5th and school started on the 6th. Yup, not a whole lot of time to adjust. I made it through that first week with the thought of, “oh boy, what did I sign up for?” But then I told myself, “you can do it Luan!” I had met some friends during the first few weeks and we were in the same boat. Molly and Jack were also recent College graduates and decided to try China for a year. Molly was my maid of honor and Jack was Van’s best man in our China wedding.


Van deciding to stay in China made my decision easy as well. I extended my contract to one year. Now, we’ve been in China almost 3 years. Time flies when you’re having fun. =)


Q: Tell us about your wedding in China, and was it a culture shock to you and spouse?
A: Our wedding in China was perfect. It was perfect because our apartment we moved to happened to be right next to a Christian church. We did not plan that. When we switched schools for the second semester so we could teach together, we moved downtown. We worked with a private tutoring center which gave us great accommodations, but we didn’t stay too long since our schedules were not ideal.


Anyways, Van and I lived together in this apartment and our family back home wanted us to see if we could sign a marriage license before we starting living together. To please them we looked around, and even contacted the embassy of in Beijing to see if we could get a marriage license since our wedding was scheduled for July 25th,2009 in Washington. Well, it was useless. Two foreigners in China can’t get legally married in China. One of the many laws in China. So, it was Feb. and the one thing we could do is have the wedding ceremony at the church. We set the date for April 25th,2009. That gave me two months to plan and with the help of some Chinese friends, it was more than I had expected.


We had a pastor that only spoke Chinese so we asked our friend Jack, a Chinese English teacher, to translate the ceremony. He was delighted to. My friend Brenda helped me arrange all the flowers, decorations, camera/video man, and pretty much for my right hand woman. She was amazing. I’m so thankful for all my friends I’ve made met in China.


On the wedding day, everything was set to go. Brenda’s daughter Lorraine was our flower girl. Jerry, one of my students was the ring barrier. Molly and Jack were ready to go with their new dress and suit. I had printed 300 programs and by word of mouth invited all my students and their families. At about 6pm, my uncle from Beijing walked me down the aisle and that’s when I saw the crowd. It was breathtaking. Van was waiting for me at the altar, and I walked down smiling at all our students and friends. Most of our international friends also came. England, Italy, Australia…etc. It was an international event. The whole thing was captured on video. Our students had never seen an American wedding before and for some, it was their first time in a church. We felt like celebrities since everyone had their cameras and taking pictures of us. My seamstress, Mrs. Yang and her son also came. She had custom made my husband’s suit, and Molly’s maid of honor dress. She is very talented. It was a perfect day!

Q: Do you have any advice for living and traveling abroad with your companion?
A: If you and your partner love adventure and meeting friends from around the world, go abroad. It was the best decision I’ve made, besides getting married to Van. He and I are grown in our relationship and our marriage. We study Chinese together and practice at home. Now, after 2 years, we can communicate in Chinese. I actually never thought that would happen. It’s fun to have a secret language when we go back to the US. Van finds China a fascinating place and the language very interesting. He even enjoys listening to Chinese music and tries to sing along. I haven’t ventured there yet. =)


Q: What are your anticipated future plans?
A: Since we’ve been in China, we have made the most of it. After planning two weddings, China and America, I might say I was experienced in the wedding biz. My friends back home wanted to know if I could help them with their wedding by getting dresses and tuxedos made in China. I was more than happy to help. This gave me the idea to start my own business. Luan’s Custom Made Wedding Attire. My friends find it so convenient and much cheaper to have the clothes made in China by the talented seamstress, Mrs. Yang. All I need is the picture of what you want made and your measurements. It’s that easy and hopefully more people will see the benefits in this idea. I’m having lots of fun and I’ve always wanted to start my own business. Never thought this would happen but where there is a will, there is a way. I’m extremely grateful.


For future plans, we go back to Washington every summer to see family and friends. We haven’t had enough of China yet so we’re coming back for more. But this time, we’re moving to Guangzhou. We have friends there and they really want us to join them. We also have invested in our friend’s cosmetics company and are now shareholders. It’s a risk, but we did research and signed legal contracts so with no risk, there are no rewards. Life is about risk, trying something new, going places and meeting people. That’s what makes life fun and worth living. I would not have it any other way. We will come back to America eventually, but not yet. What’s the rush? Well, maybe a future child. =) That time will come.

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