'One plus one equals three'


Mina Cheon And Gabriel Kroiz

March 24, 2001|By Joanne E. Morvay | Joanne E. Morvay,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In Mina Cheon's native Korea, the merging of traditional Korean culture with customs from foreign lands is a popular trend called globalism. Mina and Gabriel Kroiz have another word for it: love.

From the first, Mina and Gabriel's romance has been a blend of their two distinct cultural backgrounds.

In February 1999, Mina was a graduate student at the Maryland Institute, College of Art's Hoffberger School of Painting. Gabriel teaches architecture at the institute. A love of art was about the only thing the couple shared when they met by chance on campus one snowy evening.

Mina, 27, is an artist who does digital installations, creating an "environment" rather than a specific object, she says. She is completing her second master's degree, in imaging and digital arts, at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Mina's father is a Korean diplomat. Her mother is an art historian. Thanks to her father's postings, Mina has lived in New York, Copenhagen and Ottawa. No matter where they were living, Mina says, her family strived to retain traditional Korean ways.

Gabriel, 35, is an architect who earned his degree at the Rhode Island School of Design. He was raised in Bolton Hill and graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. His mother is an artist. His late father owned and managed property.

Raised in a Jewish household, Gabriel became more serious about Judaism after his father died in 1999. He was already in love with Mina, he says, when he realized he would be happy only if he married a woman who also practiced his faith.

Mina was raised without strict adherence to one religion. Her extended family members are Buddhists and Catholics. She was open to the possibility of converting to Judaism, she says.

When it came to marriage, however, Mina had always expected to marry a Korean man.

"I thought I would return to Korea when I was done with my studies," she explains. "I expected to [participate in] some arranged dating that would lead to getting married. I actually thought that would be sort of convenient."

Mina says despite Korea's interest in becoming a global player, "international marriage" between Korean women and foreign men is still taboo. Her parents did not even want to discuss Gabriel when Mina first mentioned him, she says.

Gabriel later wrote Mina's father a formal proposal letter, offering to meet him anywhere in the world so that he could ask for Mina's hand. Last July, Gabriel went to Korea as Mina's "American candidate for marriage." After long conversations with her parents and other family members about marriage and what his plans for the future were, Gabriel became Mina's American fiance.

Shortly after that, Mina began studying Judaism. She formally converted this spring.

In a "nod of respect to our cultures, our families and each other," Gabriel says, the couple decided to have two weddings - a Korean ceremony in Korea and a Modern Orthodox Jewish ceremony in Baltimore.

The traditional Korean wedding, which included a number of ancient practices, was held Dec. 29 in Seoul. The date was chosen by a fortuneteller as "an auspicious date to start our marriage," Mina explains.

Gabriel's family came from Baltimore, and more than 500 people - including members of the Korean Parliament who are associates of Mina's father - attended the ceremony.

On March 11, Mina and Gabriel married again at B'Nai Israel Synagogue in Baltimore. In accordance with Jewish tradition, Mina and Gabriel greeted their guests separately and then participated in rituals on their own before coming together to sign the marriage contract, called a ketubah. The ceremony was performed under a canopy called a huppah. Seven blessings were recited. And Mina and Gabriel shared wine from a traditional kiddush cup. Twelve of Mina's family members from Korea were among the guests.

Gabriel describes the blending of their two cultures as "one plus one equals three. When two cultures merge," he says "it's not just two cultures anymore. There's then a third element."

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