Cross-cultural romance blooms across Germany and Vietnam

By Phan Duong   March 19, 2024 | 06:00 am PT
Jan Hilgendorf never anticipated being swept away by fate, but a serendipitous encounter with Loan challenged all his preconceptions about love and destiny.

"The first glimpse of Loan left me speechless. All I could think was, 'She's captivating,'" Jan reminisced about the moment he first laid eyes on Loan at a Master of Business Administration (MBA) class at WHU (Wissenschaftliche Hochschule für Unternehmensführung) in late September 2019.

Originally assigned to a different class, Jan's path shifted due to a scheduling error at his school. Unbeknownst to him, this twist of fate would lead him to his future love.

"During the entrance interview, a member of the admissions committee jokingly remarked that WHU also stands for 'Wir heiraten untereinander' (We marry each other). "Little did I know, this joke would turn into reality," Jan chuckled.

Loan and Jan during their study trip to the U.S., November 2019. Photo courtesy of Loan and Jan

Loan and Jan during their study trip to the U.S., November 2019. Photo courtesy of Loan and Jan

Loan Nguyen, a Saigon native who relinquished her role as a marketing manager in the food and beverage industry to pursue studies abroad, felt a similar spark upon her initial interaction with Jan.

Joining the class a week later than her peers, Loan initially felt like an outsider among students who had already formed connections. It wasn't until meeting Jan that she began to find her place within the group.

"Upon hearing Jan introduce himself as a 22-year-old balancing work and studies, I was taken aback," Loan recalled, as most of her classmates who were her age: around 30.

The pair’s interactions increased, while serendipity and "coincidence" worked in their favor.

Jan's apartment happened to be a mere 10-minute walk from Loan's residence. To seize the opportunity to connect with the girl who had captured his attention, Jan often lingered at the tram stop, hoping for a "chance" encounter.

After just over two weeks, Jan proposed he and Lan start studying together, a gesture met with surprise and initial refusal from Loan, who believed Jan's academic savvy rendered group study unnecessary.

"He’s such a good student, he doesn’t need to study with anyone," she thought.

But Jan made a clever excuse to get Loan’s phone number anyway: "Just in case we have any problems with our school work, we can call each other."

Sure enough, not long after, Jan received a message from Lan that made him pump his fist:

"It’s too hard to study alone, let’s study together."

The invisible threads of love had begun weaving their first bond between the pair.

From that moment on, they became inseparable. Despite Loan's initial reservations about their age difference, she couldn't deny her growing feelings for Jan. However, fear of judgment from others led her to conceal their budding romance.

It wasn't until a Christmas party, where classmates intentionally paired them for a dance, that Loan finally acknowledged her feelings, unburdened by concerns about societal norms.

Their time in the master's program became filled with cherished memories, including travels to the US, India, and a three-month exploration of Vietnam during periods of online-only learning.

Following graduation, Jan returned to the company he’d worked for before school, while Loan embarked on a challenging job search in Germany's competitive post-pandemic market. She faced setbacks due to language barriers and lack of international experience.

The journey was fraught with rejection and self-doubt, and Loan began to waiver ever so slightly in her pursuit of a career in marketing, questioning herself at every turn.

"Why do I have to try to prove myself here?" she asked. "I compared myself with friends in Vietnam, who had already achieved great success, and even began to doubt whether my decision to study abroad was the right one."

She was unable to confide in anyone – no family or friends – accept Jan, who seemed to understand. His steadfast support provided solace in moments of despair. When she was sad, he listened. When she cried, he made her laugh. When she was moody, he took her out to relieve her stress. When she kept comparing herself to others, he always encouraged her:

"The only person you need to overcome is yourself, no one else."

Jan’s encouragement and belief in her abilities spurred Loan to persevere, ultimately leading to her securing a coveted position as a marketing manager at a multinational consumer company in Germany.

Jan proposed to Loan on a trip to France. Photo courtesy of Jan and Loan

Jan proposed to Loan on a trip to France. Photo courtesy of Jan and Loan

Lan said Jan is a good problem solve her, and watching him navigate life challenges helped her grow, especially his ability to adjust his priorities to her needs. For instance, when Jan was offered a brief study opportunity in the U.S. just a month into their relationship, he turned it down knowing Loan had no interest in further schooling.

Similarly, when he contemplated asking Loan's parents for permission to relocate to Hamburg with him, he diligently practiced Vietnamese to converse with them.

"Growing up, I witnessed my parents' unhappy marriage and saw many couples around me break up, which made marriage seem daunting," Loan disclosed. Pursuing education served as her escape from the confines of marriage. "But when Jan came into my life, everything changed," she confessed.

Jan, too, underwent personal growth through his relationship with Loan. His classmates noticed a significant shift as he became less assertive and more attuned to others' feelings. Loan not only broadened his social circle but also provided diverse perspectives.

Initially drawn to different cultures, Jan found himself developing a fondness for Vietnamese cuisine after falling in love with Loan. Despite his hectic schedule, he dedicated himself to learning Vietnamese to connect with her friends and family.

Both Jan and Loan believed their encounter was destined. From the moment they met, they engaged in endless conversations spanning topics from space exploration and economics to movies and culture. Jan shared his wealth of knowledge with Loan, enriching their bond.

Loan cherished the simple joys of their relationship, such as Jan's compliments on their Vietnamese meals or his attempts to master amusing Vietnamese phrases through Duolingo.

Jan and Loans wedding took place in January 2023, in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo courtesy of Jan and Loan

Jan and Loan's wedding took place in January 2023, in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo courtesy of Jan and Loan

As their love matured and Loan's career stabilized, Jan clandestinely arranged a romantic trip for them to France.

During a photo shoot, the photographer asked Loan to turn away for a shot. When she turned around, she was surprised to see Jan having dropped to one knee.

"Will you marry me?" Jan was trembling, but he felt like the luckiest man alive when she accepted.

Their wedding in January 2023 in Ho Chi Minh City marked the culmination of the first chapter of their love story, with plans for future chapters including continue to explore the world together.

As their journey continues to unfold, Jan and Loan know that challenges of their love story – the trials and tribulations – led to both personal growth and joy.

They now embrace the unknown with open hearts and devotion.

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