A Dating Story: International Students Find Love Abroad

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Finding friends can be tricky, and navigating the unfamiliar dating waters is an even bigger challenge. But Kyoko Matsumoto, 21, and Haruna Sugita, both from Japan, are up for the challenge. Matsumoto has been with her boyfriend, Byron Yang, 21, who is from China, for a year and nine months. The couple met at the gym through a mutual friend and haven’t looked back since.

“We go to the gym together if we have time if he is here. The gym connected us,” says Matsumoto.

Sugita, met her boyfriend of a year and a half, Dan McBrayer, 24, of Washington, also through a mutual friend, when they all planned to go see the movie Baby Driver.

“He invited both of them to come with us. We went, picked them up and went to the movie theater and her and I just started talking a lot. And it kinda just went from there,” says McBrayer.

Dating isn’t without its complications. Relationships take work and communication is an essential part. Being from different cultural backgrounds is bound to have its own set of challenges.

What’s normal for me and what’s normal for him is really different.”

— Kyoko Matsumoto

Simon Krane
Kyoko Matsumoto, an International Student from Japan.

“What’s normal for me and what’s normal for him is really different,” says Matsumoto, “It was challenging for us to work with each other to understand our cultural differences.”


“The language difference is most challenging,” says Sugita, “When I want to tell something to him. I can’t tell a hundred percent what I want to say.”

One of the better parts about being in a relationship is that you will always have someone there for you. “My boyfriend treats me like family. I don’t have family here, my own family. He has his own family. But, he still treats me like his own family. Which is really nice for me and he makes me feel loved every day and he makes me feel safe,” says Matsumoto.

“We are very supportive of each other. Any time either of us has problems we can always go to each other” says McBrayer.“He and his family really help me. When I’m in trouble, they help me, so I feel safe here,” says Sugita.

photo courtesy of Kyoko Matsumoto
Kyoko and Byron at the gum wall in Seattle.

Even though each girl is thousands of miles away from their families, they have managed to find community and an additional family here in the states with their boyfriends. 

Important advice for future couples who come from different cultural backgrounds is that “there will be challenges. For sure struggles, between you and your partner because, there are two different cultures. The most important thing, I think, is respecting each other and each other’s cultures,” says Matsumoto.

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