Happy union of two cultures


It took only a few weeks for David Crouch to decide to ask Svetlana Zarukayeva to marry him. It took five more months and a trip to her home in Uzbekistan for Svetlana to say yes.

David had no romantic expectations when friends of a friend asked him to escort Svetlana to their fall 1999 wedding. The couple thought Svetlana would enjoy meeting David, who had studied Russian and international relations as an undergraduate at Goucher College and had spent one summer in Russia.

In early October 1999, shortly after Svetlana had arrived in the United States, David invited her to dinner and surprised her with a stuffed tiger hidden in the glove compartment of his car. They hit it off, and "In the ensuing weeks, we spent practically every night after work together," David says.

On Oct. 28, David proposed to Svetlana in Fells Point.

"I just at that point knew I wanted to do it," says David. "Both of us are the kind of people who need to know somebody for a really long time even before we can be friends with them, so it's very strange that all this happened."

But Svetlana wasn't ready to say yes. She loved David, but she was unsure about moving to a new country, leaving her family and giving up her job with the United Nations. She returned home to Tashkent in Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic, and the two stayed in contact through e-mail and phone calls.

She invited David to meet her family in March 2000. It was a difficult trip involving a 16-hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany, a six-hour layover and then a flight to Tashkent, where David was detained by security officers who thought he might be a spy. Fortunately, Svetlana arrived with her U.N. identification and David was freed. They spent two weeks exploring the country and introducing David to Svetlana's family.

By the end of the trip, Svetlana had agreed to marry David.

"I liked him a lot and I felt that we have a lot of [similarities]," she says. "He seemed to me like a person on whom I can count and who gets things done, which to me is the most important thing."

Before David left, they had an engagement party at a Georgian restaurant -- as close as they could find to Svetlana's Ossetian heritage -- with traditional music and dancing. Two weeks later, when Svetlana arrived in the United States, they had a civil ceremony in New York.

On Oct. 14, the couple, both 25, had a larger wedding ceremony at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Highlandtown. They arrived in a horse-drawn carriage.

Svetlana's mother, Zarema Zarukayeva, came to the United States for the event and even showed guests some traditional dancing at the reception, held at the Castle at Maryvale in Brooklandville. Guests also enjoyed dinner and American dancing, and received clay figurines from Uzbekistan from the couple.

Svetlana, who has a good command of English, and David have learned a lot about each other's cultures living together in the Fells Point home that David grew up in and then bought from his parents, David and Susan Crouch.

"Even though I've ... studied the culture, there are inevitably little things that you don't think are important that somebody else does," says David, who is earning a master of business administration degree at Johns Hopkins University and plans to pursue a doctorate in development economics.

It has also been an adjustment for Svetlana, who now works in the business office of Johns Hopkins' Center for Talented Youth. At home, "I knew all the places there, I had a lot of friends, I had a very active life," she says.

But some things do come easily.

"A lot of the time ... we'll literally be thinking the same thing," says David. "It's funny because we're from very different backgrounds and cultures and we end up having this very similar mentality."

It is "such a bizarre thing," he says. "Not only do you find somebody ... it's exactly the right person at exactly the right time."

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