Um, That’s Not How We Did It In MY Family

Growing up on a farm in northwest Iowa, I pictured myself someday marrying a tall, Dutch boy—he would probably play the guitar and be able to talk with my dad about farming. His family would have been solid in their faith for generations and we would get along splendidly. Considering the people I was surrounded by, this very likely could have happened. Little did I know that I would meet and fall in love with a dark, Cambodian-American. Vandenn’s family escaped the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and after spending time in refugee camps in Thailand, they were re-located in Dallas. His parents divorced just months later, leaving his mom in a new country with four young kids. Needless to say, Vandenn and I had very different upbringings.

On August 5, 2006, we got married, never having spent more than 2 weeks at a time together. We had dated long distance after meeting at a conference for teachers in our organization. He came to Mongolia to propose to me nine months after we met. We got married less than a year later.

Going into marriage, I had thought that since Vandenn had been raised mostly in America, that we couldn’t really be that different. Ha!

It wasn’t until we got married that I realized how Asian he truly is! Dealing with his family was truly a culture shock experience for me. Their home wafted with the smells of Khmer food, while a loud Thai drama dubbed in Khmer or karaoke played on the TV. A meal often turned into an event where anyone could come over and drop by. There didn’t seem to be any schedule, and the rule of thumb seemed to be to start things after 8pm. Alcohol would be consumed and pretty soon my mother-in-law would be trying to light an uncle’s farts on fire with a lighter or she would teasingly chase someone around with a butcher knife.

This was NOT how life was done in my family. We showed up for dinner promptly at 5:30, sat down to eat at an orderly table, maybe played a game of Phase 10 or Dominoes, and then we went home, usually around 9pm. Extra people did not just stop by, unless they were invited. No loud music played, and there definitely was NO drinking! My mom wouldn’t dream of chasing someone around with a large knife that could also be used to hack down branches off trees in the backyard.

Where my family was schedules and order, Vandenn’s family was spontaneity and endless hospitality. I grew up with words of affection and gentleness—in his, they comment on how dark or dumb or how fat you are.

And the thing is, I have come to love it. I have seen that behind the apparent harsh words, there is a deep love and commitment for each other. I have learned from them how to welcome anyone into my home and be generous with food and resources and time. I have learned that the way my family does things, isn’t the only way, and honestly, my kids are blessed to have two very different families. Over the past nine years, Vandenn and I have learned to laugh over the differences and appreciate what the other brings to the table.

A couple of summers ago when were visiting Vandenn’s family, I looked out the window and saw my mother-in-law hanging homemade sausages outside in her backyard. I stood there, smiling, thankful that God had seen fit to bring me into this family.

With Mom


How are you better from having your “culture” (in whatever sense) clashed with?


  1. Ashley Felder July 15, 2015

    Even though my husband is American, he is still from a different culture and upbringing(African American). My upbringing was similar to yours, while his was similar to Vandenn’s. Well, maybe more in the spontaneous aspect, not the firey gas or knife chasing. 😉 One funny aspect that I still have to adjust to is New Year’s Eve. Everyone gathers at his grandmother’s house and when the clock strikes 12, grandma brings out all her old pots and pans and everyone bangs on them as loud as they can. This usually lasts several minutes. Whereas my family, growing up at least, barely stayed up until midnight. We were all usually passed out (tired, not alcohol) on the couch! But I’m thankful for his family and how they’ve stretched me to be more flexible and care-free. It was a nice warm-up for life in China!

    1. Danielle Krouch July 15, 2015

      I find it so interesting how different people are raised! I think marriage in itself shows you so many differences–add in different backgrounds and it gets fun!

  2. Caitlin Lieder July 15, 2015

    I loved this! My husband and I also married after dating long distance and never seeing each other longer than 2 weeks! But God has a way of making stories like this bring Him much glory!  Thank you for sharing your story!

    1. Danielle Krouch July 15, 2015

      Thanks Caitlin! Would love to hear your story sometime! God knows before we do, what we need in a husband. At times it was very hard not having a long shared history together, but it’s been fun making a new history together since getting married!

  3. Amy Young July 15, 2015

    This brought back a lot of memories from a team I was on — it was small so we were each quite strongly influenced by the family we grew up in. My family sent lots of letters and packages and my teammates didn’t. This was an unspoken point of tension. On the positive, how I was expanded through teaming with this person is that when they’d had enough after a meal and wanted to move on, they’d stand up and say “The Johnson in me needs to move!” (not the real last name). It was such a nice way to say, “I’ve had enough.” And every now and then the Johnson in me will announce itself as I excuse myself from the table 🙂

  4. Emily Smith July 17, 2015

    Wow! Thank you.  The day before this was featured I was praying about my own relationship. It is long distance and international.  Both of us are TCKs and have a whole host of cultures that have influenced us. We have seen God so perfectly putting things together. That hasn’t stopped other people’s words of caution (and discouragement). My prayer was “God, show me again that it is possible for You to take our differences, use them for your glory  and show us how to come together as our own united family. ”

    This was such a beautiful answer and reminder. It is nice hearing from someone who is already farther down this path and and would still say the same things that I was thinking. I am so thankful that God has set me on this path.

  5. MaDonna July 22, 2015

    Oh, this just made me giggle. I married a German TCK, who grew up in Taiwan. I am from the Midwest USA…our first time to really talk was on a train where we had only standing tickets. We had 9 hours of standing close, sitting in squeezed seats, and I was feeling WAY out of my comfort zone with personal space…for him it was just normal. It has been a great 16 years now – not always easy, but great! Thanks for sharing your story…

  6. Tracy May 3, 2017

    Thanks for sharing! I moved to Madagascar to work for an NGO here, and married a Malagasy man. Boy, are things different! I have been struggling because we also dated long distance and now we are together and married here in Madagascar, but I feel crazy sometimes, dealing with culture changes and all of the normal struggles that come with living overseas, on top of just not always connecting or understanding my husband due to culture. I’m hoping that it is something that will just happen as the years past, but boy, what a ride so far! I appreciate the sharing and stories from you all- it makes me feel better about my situation! 🙂

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