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Crossing Cultures, Finding Home

International students share their experiences
  • Tabea Martens
  • January 24, 2020

For her senior Communications project last spring, Tabea Martens ’19 wanted to capture the vast variety of stories and cultures that intersect at Moody. Here she interviews Timo and Katie Frugoni, two married students who always laugh when someone asks “but where are you from?” The answer sounds like Guatemala—Spain—Germany—US, but the path is a bit crooked. Oh, and Tabea is from Germany, making for an interesting conversation about culture and faith.

Timo, your mom is German and your dad is a Spaniard. How much are you personally influenced by both cultures?

Timo: When it comes to punctuality, I am German. I hate getting late to places. On the other hand, I really appreciate the culture of eating and going out very late at night—that is very Spanish.

Katie, you spent a dozen years in Guatemala as a missionary kid. What was most memorable?

Katie: I studied in Guatemalan schools, whereas most missionary kids from the US attend Christian or North American schools in Guatemala and don’t get as much Guatemalan culture. I am actually still in contact with most of my friends. A favorite memory is playing in the rain and dirt with the children in the villages. It was a fun and beautiful time.

What was it like to live in between American and Guatemalan cultures?

Katie: We would speak Spanish and do everything according to Guatemalan culture, but when you’d go inside our house, it was very Western and American. I personally always had a preference for the Guatemalan culture.

What did you love about Guatemalan culture?

Katie: The people. There is something very beautiful about the people. They might not have the resources, but they still want to help and give you everything they have. It is a kind and caring culture.

When you were in high school, your missionary parents relocated the family to Spain. How did you react?

Katie: I was so against it. I thought I would be in Guatemala for the rest of my life. So I told my mom that I wasn’t going to move. But eventually I knew it was time for us to go.

Though Guatemala and Spain speak the same language, did you learn any cultural differences?

Katie: We moved to southern Spain, where they speak faster Spanish. I spent my first few months in Spain not understanding anything that my teachers or friends said to me. It was also really hard for me to understand the way in which Spaniards care for others. You have to get past being made fun of to know they care for you.

Timo, did you make fun of her too?

Timo: No, I thought her Spanish was super cute.
I wasn’t used to seeing someone that blonde speaking Latin American Spanish. But she wanted to learn. We watched her speak Latin American Spanish first, then southern Spanish, and a mix of both. That is super cool because she can shift from one culture to the other easily, and she understands both so well.

What is it like to both speak multiple languages?

Timo: Speaking different languages, even at home, can get pretty messy at times. However, if I miss a word in one language, I can steal a word from another language, and that’s fun.

Katie: We started our relationship only speaking Spanish. Five years into our relationship, I started teaching Timo English so he could talk to my family.

Timo, what has Katie’s cultural heritage taught you?

Timo: All I knew of America was based on movies and music—very hollow—so I have learned about American culture by going to Katie’s family’s house. I also got to learn about Latin American culture—how embracing and caring they are. And I learned that Guatemala is in Central America, not South America—they pride themselves in that.

Did your wedding have cultural aspects to it?

Timo: Yes, I wanted a talent show, where friends and family come out and perform for us. That was something I had seen and liked in German weddings.

Katie: We also decided to have a potluck, with people bringing in different foods from their countries. It was a multi-cultural buffet of foods, very influenced by our church culture.

Timo: So many cultures pitched in ideas; we would mostly say, “That sounds cool. Let’s do it.”

Katie, what have you learned from Timo?

Katie: I have learned a lot. In Guatemala, we think being direct about things might hurt somebody’s feelings. So you find ways to make it sound nice.
The culture Timo grew up in is very opposite. Learning that it’s okay to say things directly was hard. I am still working on it. Also the definition of lateness in Latino culture is even later than it is in Spanish culture.

Timo: There are no clocks. Literally, no clocks.

Have the cultural differences been a point of tension in your marriage?

Timo: Oh, 100 percent. Sometimes we do clash, especially because I’m used to saying things pretty directly; Katie is teaching me how to be direct in a more loving and kinder way. That is the beauty of marriage, though. You get to learn about the other person, and you learn with them.

What was it like to move to yet another culture—Chicago?

Katie: For me, being back in the States has been very humbling. I was very against the idea of being back here. But God has used this time to let me see things that I actually do appreciate about here and opened my eyes to the things that are happening in this country. It also helped to be able to see my American family from a different perspective.

What have you learned during your time here?

Timo: I’ve learned to appreciate cultures even more. We have been able to connect with so many different people from so many different places here at Moody. Culture and the ability to celebrate culture can bring us together. It’s incredible to see how God can bring people from completely different backgrounds together in one place.

Where do you hope to be ministering in the future?

Katie: We have been dreaming about a lot, and we’re open to where the Lord leads us. For right now, our heart is to go back to Spain to serve the people and refugees there.

Timo: We just want to be tools used by the Lord.

About the Author

  • Tabea Martens

Tabea Martens ’19 calls Moody “a place where stories and cultures intersect.” She interviewed international students for her senior capstone project, photographed them, then published the collection as Beauty Within Tension. Tabea now works as communications designer for VDM, a missions agency near Bremen, Germany.