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Juno and Stephen in Gyeongju, Republic of Korea (Photo: Juno Kim)
Who: Jiyeon Juno Kim and Stephen Bugno
Where we met: Seoul, Republic of Korea
Relationship status: Engaged to be married
As with any good romance story, it happened when we least expected it. It wasn’t the best period of my life — I was unhappy with my high-pressure job as a mechanical engineer. Writing for my travel blog Runaway Juno was my only escape from daily life.
I was living in Seoul, and one afternoon my travel blogging friend from New York City tweeted me that I should meet her friend who was in town. I didn’t know much about him, but I was always up for meeting someone interesting. We set up a time to meet, and I sent him a few tweets for how to recognize me. But strangely, I couldn’t find any photos of him online. What a mysterious man, I thought.
I arrived at Anguk Station on time. I saw a few foreign faces walking by, but I had no clue how to recognize him. I figured he was late, so I started reading my book. After a while I felt a shadow on my book, and a man said hello. We shook hands and went out for dinner.
The couple at Vatnajokull, Iceland (Photo: Juno Kim)
We had bibimbab, his favorite Korean food. Then we had tea and walked along the Chunggyecheon river walk. I found him quite interesting and unusual — I’d never met someone who traveled as much as him, and couldn’t help but notice that he was very cute. We had another dinner and tea the next day, and then he returned back home to the U.S.
Sad, I know. But our story didn’t end there.
Thanks to social media, physical proximity doesn’t rule the relationship anymore. We took advantage of technology and continued our relationship via Skype, Twitter, email, and every other mode of long-distance communication.
A few months later I finally took the leap of faith and left my engineering job for world travel. It was quite a change, but I thought I deserved to pursue happiness. Don’t we all? In June 2011, I exited my office building for the last time, and boarded a plane to the U.S. one week later. Stephen and I have been traveling together ever since.
We spent the most beautiful summer on the East Coast of the U.S. We camped, hiked, drank microbrewed beers, went to beaches, and ate a lot of classic American food (for me, mostly), and Stephen introduced me to his friends and family. But as they do, all good things come to an end — I had to return to Korea before my 90-day tourist visa ran out.
Hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire (Photo: Juno Kim)
After that it wasn’t easy to find a time and place for us to be together because the U.S. has very strict visa rules. But since we were both working independent of location, we could go and live anywhere we wanted. With that in mind, we embarked on another big trip in December of that year, starting from Hong Kong.
Without realizing, we became something called digital nomads. Travel and work were synonymous. We traveled full-time while managing our online businesses. We ate the finest gelato in Italy, stayed at a private ecolodge in the French Pyrenees, survived a third-class Indian train, accidentally ate lots of animal intestines in China, and saw the northern lights in Iceland.
Our life story might sound ideal, but it hasn’t always been easy to maintain a relationship. We’ve had to spend months apart after traveling together intimately for much of the year. The void was big. Traveling together means spending every waking moment together. So we had to learn to respect one another’s space. We hit a few rough moments along the way but made adjustments as we grew together.
Exploring Sacré-Cœur in Paris (Photo: Juno Kim)
Our story has a happy ending. We are getting married on March 29 in Seoul, where we first met. We will be wearing traditional clothes for the traditional Korean ceremony.
A lot has happened during the last four years. Relationships aren’t easy; they’re like a fine art. You have to keep developing yourself and trust your sense of vision. I shed a good amount of tears (to be fair, I cry a lot), but I wouldn’t exchange anything for the joy I shared with Stephen.
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