Ali and Hugo

How We Met

If I said this was a love-at-first-sight story, I’d be lying.

Hugo and I were introduced to one another partway through my study abroad spring semester at a meet and greet. International students met French students who would be teaching abroad the following semester. Plastic cups filled with cheap wine, American college students and French spoken in thick American accents filled the small space. Our study abroad liaison introduced Hugo to our University of New Hampshire student group. Hugo would be teaching at UNH, my now alma mater, during my senior year. I felt excited to meet a French student who’d be headed to my university, shaking his hand and making small talk about the UNH campus in English. After inviting my friends to see the newest film recommendation from another student in class, I invited Hugo along. Being the easy going guy I now know, it was only normal he invited his friends along and bought us all Dominos before headed to the movies. He still, however, gives me a hard time to this day about Le Dernier Loup : the worst movie he’s ever gone to see in theaters (you’re welcome). We shared many nights out as a group of friends in Dijon for the rest of the semester and said goodbye to one another in May on at least three occasions– Hugo values relationships more than anything.

Flash forward a few months : I met up with Hugo at Philbrook Dining Hall in early September on the UNH campus. My senior year, his year to teach French at UNH between finishing his B.A. and starting his M.A. back in France. I guess it wasn’t so easy coming to the U.S., let alone little Durham, for the first time as a lone French student. The happy-go-lucky, talkative French friend I had made a few months earlier was quiet over our shared dining hall meal and admitted feeling lonely on campus. I couldn’t let him spend all of his time alone. One Market Basket trip later, I found myself sitting next to Hugo on a couch at a friend’s apartment that evening, staring at him over loud conversation and even louder music, realizing that in fact I may be feeling something more for this friend of mine. A rocky month and some big changes later, Hugo and I decided to see where this would take us. We spent the year inseparable. The following years we spent long distance and then moving back and forth between France and the U.S. to work, live and be close to one another.

How They Asked

The proposal caught me off guard.

Hugo and I had been talking about wedding rings and engagement for quite some time and our conversations grew even more earlier in the fall. I suspected the big question was going to be dropped around the holidays before Hugo headed back to France to spend the holidays with his family. Every time we went out in November and December, my heart would race and I imagined that it would happen at any moment. Hugo could sense that I knew it would be coming. He knows how much I love surprises and conspired with my co-worker to surprise me outside of the school I work in one day.

Leading up to the holiday break, I knew I’d be seeing friends on Saturday evening for the holidays and as a late birthday gift. My brain kept telling me that Hugo would propose in front of them and we’d be able to share the excitement together. He wasn’t supposed to come back to my side of the state until Friday evening after finishing his first semester of his Master’s degree out at UMass Amherst.

On a Thursday afternoon after school, I stood around in the office talking with some of the teachers. My grade level teammate asked me to help her carry a bench from her car. Not thinking twice about the awkward laughter coming from another teacher’s reaction to that question, we headed back towards our classrooms and for me to bring a bench up to her classroom. Not bothering to grab my jacket, I dropped my belongings right next to the exit door and walked outside in front of my two co-workers.

The rest, to be completely honest, was a blur. The sunlight was golden and low in the sky to my left. I heard my name called out as soon as I walked out of the brick school. I looked to my left, and the familiar North Face jacket came walking over from against the building, coming up to give me a hug. My knee-jerk reaction was a scream and backing away from Hugo’s familiar face. I was totally thrown off, however my brain had started to register what was to come next.

“What are you doing here?” I finally managed to say in a hug. “I thought you were coming tomorrow!”

Hugo took a few steps backward and said, “You know exactly what I’m doing here.”

I felt like I was in a movie.

He got down on one knee, held the ring out in front of him and popped the question in English. His bright red face had the biggest smile I’ve ever seen glued to it. I can imagine mine looked the same. It felt like forever before I nodded a yes through the tears that sprung to my eyes. Lots of laughter, smiles, embraces and teachers rushing out of the building saying ” Did I just see what I think I saw?!” , it finally started to sink in. I smile just the same as I recount this story to loved ones, over and over.