June 29, 2014 at 9:29 AM ET
Jan Falmer and Yemi O-Ettu are two people from different parts of the globe who still managed to find each other.
Their love story spans multiple countries across Asia, Africa and South America, but it all started when the American woman met the Nigerian man in Florida in 2008. They worked for the same company — Yemi in New York and Jan in Florida — and Yemi had traveled down to the Florida office on a business trip.
Two years passed before their paths crossed again. Yemi returned to the Florida office for a six-month stint, and Jan remembered him from their first meeting. He didn't remember her — a minor point of contention to this day — but Jan didn’t hold a grudge.
“I offered to show him around the area, and we quickly became good friends,” she said. “One day we were grabbing lunch and the topic of the kind of guy I was looking for came up. I named countless characteristics of the perfect man, and he just laughed and said, 'No man is all those things!' I definitely didn’t know it at the time, but he had all those and more.”
Yemi, too, saw something special in his friend and colleague.
“Once I got to know Jan, I realized, 'This is the kind of person I want to spend rest of my life with,'" he recalled. "She’s a kindred spirit. She just kind of got it. She understood what matters in life: a good balance of family, love, adventure — the things that I feel matter most.”
Their friendship progressed into casual dating, including a trip down to Key West. But when Yemi, 34, returned to New York, the possibility of them being together went with him. That was until Jan, 31, was serendipitously transferred to the New York office three months later, and they were able to truly be a couple.
Yemi proposed while they babysat for his 2-year-old niece in the fall of 2012. He gave the toddler the ring box to show Jan, and she opened it just as Yemi walked into the room. She, of course, said yes.
“Once we started dating, I knew she was the one for me," Yemi said. "The idea for the proposal just reflected who we were as people.”
Soon after wedding planning began, another plan was hatched: They agreed that after the wedding, they’d both quit their jobs and fulfill their dreams of traveling around the world.
Jan explained that friends and family fell into one of two camps upon hearing about their plans. “They either thought we were crazy for leaving our cushy, corporate jobs, or that it was an incredible experience that would bring us so much closer, and it was a great idea to do it before we had children.”
Jan and Yemi were married on Sept. 19, 2013 in Key West, the site of their first date. An intimate group of 16 friends and family members watched as they said their vows in Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.
A reception at local restaurant Mangoes followed, where the couple had their first dance to Jesse Young's “Between You and I,” a song performed by the artist himself. And part way through the reception, the couple and their guests changed into traditional Nigerian outfits and danced to traditional music.
“That was beautiful,” Yemi said. “It seemed so natural. It didn’t seem comical. It seemed like (Jan’s family) fit in. That was something that really meant a lot to my mom especially, that we incorporated both cultures.”
Six weeks later, they were off on their round-the-world journey, flying first to Bangkok. They traveled through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Nigeria, South Africa, Bolivia, Peru, and some other destinations in between.
The Philippines wasn't part of their original itinerary, but they wanted to help in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms ever to make landfall. The couple volunteered to work on damaged houses.
“It really put things into perspective, how fortunate we are to live in a developed country,” Jan said of their time helping with the relief effort. “The people there had nothing, but they were so happy and so thankful. They had $2-3 a day to live on, but they would still bring us snacks.”
That was certainly a highlight of the journey, but for both of them their stop in Yemi’s home country of Nigeria was extra special. “I got to meet his extended family," Jan said. "Even seeing how he grew up, I realized we still had such similar upbringings and values.”
For Yemi, he was anxious to show Jan the beauty and kindness of Nigerians, despite the negative news coverage of late. “It was fantastic!” he said. “Everyone loved her. I hadn’t been back in eight years, and hadn’t seen some people in 14 years, but everyone was so excited to see Jan! She’s so adaptable and got along with everyone.”
The trip was everything they dreamed of and more, but it also taught them so much about each other in the infancy of their marriage — especially when they were out of their comfort zone.
“We did a home stay in a rural village in Cambodia,” Jan recalled. “There was no electricity, no running water. And there were times when I thought, 'We could be staying in really nice five-star hotel for $20 a day.' But it turned out to be one of our favorite experiences of our whole trip.”
“It taught me a lot about us,” Yemi said. “We weren’t always in very comfortable situations. There was a lot of getting to know each other, maybe a little too much! There was a point where we were in the car for four days in Bolivia and took no showers. It taught me that we can coexist anywhere. It taught me about patience. We both grew. And the biggest thing we learned is that we can do whatever we want with our lives.”
Now they’re back in the States, house-hunting in Florida, and looking for their next adventure.