#LoveIsNotTourism became a cry for binational couples around the world during the pandemic. As borders closed, lovers separated by distance had to navigate complicated and confusing restrictions and requirements.
Many Filipinos were among them.
Love in Paris
Len met Ben in her second year of pursuing a Masters degree in Normandy, France under the 2016 Erasmus Mundus’ Impakt Program and the PhilFrance Scholarship.
Len, who asked that her surname be withheld, was attending a Paris conference and staying with an Algerian friend in October of that year.
“I was in a very vulnerable period of my life. I was looking for attention and a connection,” she told Rappler in February 2023.
On her friend’s suggestion, Len joined a popular dating app.
Ben was only one of several people she matched and spoke with then.
After spending a few days in Eastern France, she came back to Paris to catch a bus to Normandy, three hours away. With time to kill, she accepted Ben’s lunch invitation.
Soon, text, calls, and weekend visits became the norm.
They kept in touch when Len went back to the Philippines for the Christmas break. When she returned, they traveled around Europe.
“I didn’t want to get too attached,” said Len, who knew she would have to return home after her studies.
But by June, she met Ben’s parents.
As Len’s graduation neared, Ben expressed an interest to visit the Philippines and followed through in November 2017.
Between 2018 and 2019, they saw each other twice a year, either in Europe or the Philippines.
Len spent Christmas in Ben’s hometown in 2019. They told his parents of their plans to marry in July 2020.
Len started collecting all necessary documents in January 2020. By the time lockdown was declared in March, she had all legalized documents in her possession.
She was scheduled for an interview at the French embassy. But everything was closed, affecting administrative functions.
“We had to put everything on hold!” Len remembered.
Ben and his parents had to forego a visit to formally ask for Len’s father’s blessing in May.
It was done over the phone instead.
Proof of relationship
Still, the couple were determined “to see it through.”
After several more postponements, they were married in France by the end of 2020.
But first, they had to document their love story, a requirement in countries wary about immigration fraud or human trafficking.
“Our relationship developed in a natural course though we made an effort to sustain it. Then, all of a sudden, we had to put it all down on paper to justify why we deserved to be together,” she said.
“It was so dehumanizing, so demeaning,” Len recalled.
She acknowledged the intention. But having to trim years leading to their wedding plans into 20 pages “felt constructed” and “diminished the relationship somehow.”
The struggle only fortified their relationship.
“We found reassurance in the thought that we were doing this together and that we were doing this for us.”
Now, Len works as a language instructor at an educational institution. Though they live in Paris, they are open to options to live and work in other parts of the world, including the Philippines.
Euro love trip
Julia Chu was in her last year at the University of the Philippines College of Law when she joined the Erasmus+ exchange program with the University of Malaga in Spain.
She arrived there in February 2019. Within the month, she met Michal, who is Polish and was also spending his Erasmus semester in Malaga.
(Rappler initially reported Michal’s name as Mihal. We have corrected this.)
They kept bumping into each other at different student-sponsored events, exchanged numbers, and started communicating regularly.
While both used dating apps to meet peers, their engagement with others dwindled as their dates became more frequent.
Before long, they were going out every week. Julia discovered Michal’s dancing skills. And in March, Michal joined Julia and her friend Jesus on a trip to Madrid.
That’s where it became clear to Julia that they shared many things in common.
A month before going home and the expiration of her Schengen visa, she accepted Michal’s invitation to visit his family in Poland. Then they visited her sister in Switzerland, and went on a trip to Italy.
Julia came back to the Philippines in August 2019.
By November, they were reunited in Germany, where he was spending another semester on the Erasmus exchange.
On her last day there, they went to Neuschwanstein Castle. Michal got on one knee, presented her a ring, and asked: “Will you be my queen?”
She accepted but they didn’t settle on a date.
“We both knew we would be together, it was just a question of when,” said Julia. “He had yet to graduate and I had to pass the bar exams.”
Julia finished her last semester online due to the pandemic.
She and Michal talked often and she started reviewing for the bar exams.
However, the exams set for September 2020 were canceled.
Julia used the time to research the fastest way they could be reunited.
Her dream was to pass the bar and get married in Palawan in 2021.
But COVID-19 honored no one’s plans.
She even checked out a proxy wedding option in Poland, but restrictions meant problems with the paperwork from the Polish Embassy in the Philippines.
The couple settled on a Vegas wedding, where all preparations could be coordinated online.
Even that threw up some hitches.
Julia’s flight was canceled and she had to negotiate with the airline to arrive in time for the wedding.
EU citizens could not directly enter the US. Michal had to spend 17 days in Ukraine before flying to the US.
On June 5, 2021, they finally got married. Before embarking on their honeymoon, they sent off their paperwork to be legalized.
At the end of five weeks, they flew to the Philippines together.
While Julia was reviewing for the bar exams, they lived at her parents’ house. She ended up being among the bar topnotchers.
Today, Julia works as a litigator and Michal works online as a programmer. They have moved into their own apartment. At least until the end of the year, Julia will stay at her law firm.
Looking back, Julia says she learned to “take opportunities that life presents instead of being led by fear. Life can be very unpredictable and also holds a lot of surprises. So, allow life to surprise you.” – Rappler.com
(Mari-An C. Santos is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow. This article is co-published with the UK-based website for Filipinos, Tinig-UK.com.)
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