By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Joyce Yu persuaded her parents to let her come to the United States for a different educational opportunity. She was 15, strong-willed and artistic -- and chafing at the competitive, science-heavy rigors of school in Taiwan.
So they acquiesced to their only daughter's entreaties to go abroad, never imagining she'd one day want to make it permanent. That eventually she'd make the move permanent for the sake of an American boy.
Yu spent two years at Sandy Spring Friends School, near Olney, before enrolling at the University of Maryland as a public relations major in 2002. Her junior year, she was accepted into an entrepreneurship program in which students from various academic disciplines live in a dorm together and learn the secrets of successful business formation.
John Feketekuty has always been a business guy; the Bethesda native studied finance and accounting, joined the entrepreneurship program as soon as he could, was working at an investment firm before he even graduated college and didn't much notice the pretty Asian girl with whom he'd shared an English class, as well as a dorm. But Yu had spotted him.
At a welcome-back picnic their senior year, she tapped him on the shoulder and introduced herself. They agreed to meet for sushi a few weeks later. It was a dismal Friday night, pouring rain and the end of a long week. He was tired; she was annoyed. They had driven separately, and when Feketekuty opted out of the party they'd agreed to meet at after dinner, Yu assumed he wasn't interested.
"He stood me up," she recalls. "It was a little disappointing."
In fact he was just tired, but eager to see her again. Then a few weeks later he canceled a lunch date, saying he was sick with the flu. When he woke up from a nap, there was a giant pot of chicken soup on the stove, made with fresh herbs and vegetables.
"I asked my roommates, 'What's the soup doing here?' And they said, 'Oh, Joyce dropped it off for you,' " remembers Feketekuty, now 26. "That was a very big moment in the relationship."
Soon he was introducing Yu to his parents, taking her home for the holidays, opting out of plans with friends to spend time with her. He didn't know, at first, that Yu's student visa would run out after graduation and she would have to leave the country unless an employer sponsored her to stay. She interviewed throughout the spring of 2006, but an offer was elusive.
In August, she was back on a plane to Taiwan.
"I remember I was with my laptop, looking at John's pictures and I was crying very hard," says Yu, also 26. "But there was also a part of me that was very excited to see my parents and see my home town."
Feketekuty was resolute. "At the time, I knew I was going to get Joyce back somehow. I was confident I was going to figure out a way," he remembers. "That was my mind-set."
He bought a ticket to go to Taipei that December. He also came up with a plan: "I figured that if I wanted Joyce back, I had to ask for her hand in marriage." Then 23, he boarded the plane with a diamond in his bag.
Yu, meanwhile, was back living with her parents, who knew about Feketekuty but refused to believe their daughter's long-distance relationship was anything serious.
"They completely denied and shut down their ears," she says. "They tried to match me up with Taiwanese boys."
When Feketekuty showed up with a proposal, their answer was firm. "They were like, 'You cannot accept that diamond,' " Yu recalls. "It was just hard for them to imagine I would have to go away again."
After two weeks Feketekuty returned to Washington, dejected but still determined. They kept in touch daily over e-mail, webcam, instant message and phone calls across a 12-hour time difference. Yu, who was working in advertising, tried to arrange a visit to the States, but her parents dissuaded her. "You have to understand, our culture is conservative. I am an unmarried daughter; if I fly out to visit a man, that's bringing shame to the family."
For 15 months they were apart, but refused to see other people. Feketekuty began taking Mandarin lessons and persuaded his investment management boss to let him go "research Chinese companies" for three months in the spring of 2008. He flew back to Taiwan in March, enrolled in an intensive language course and waited for Yu to spend an hour on a bus each day to come see him.
At home, Yu's life was stormy. "It was just endless fighting," she says. "Everybody was nervous, panicked. . . . I said, 'Look, he's here, learning Chinese and he wants to spend time with you, so you need to face the truth that we love each other and there's a possibility I may marry this boy.' "
On one of his last nights in Taiwan, Yu's parents took Feketekuty and their daughter out to dinner. For a week, he'd been practicing a speech in Mandarin. Cheat sheet in hand, he told them how he loved Yu and how he would always take care of her. When he looked up, Feketekuty saw that Yu's mother's face was streaked with tears.
A blessing was given, and nine months later a fiancee visa came through. At the end of April, Yu and Feketekuty went to a Rockville courthouse to officially wed. And on Aug. 15, in the garden of Glenview Mansion, they stood before 100 friends and family members, including Yu's parents, and exchanged vows.
After three years of fighting for their relationship, the two are now learning how to be in it again.
"We are completely the opposite. But I think we complement each other very well. . . . We're like art and science combined," Yu says. "I often joke to John, whenever we fight, 'Look at what we've been through -- there's nothing else that can pull us apart.' "