Oluwamuyiwa Egunjobi and his Rexburg native fiancee Shila Tietjen became internet sensation after their proposal photos went viral. The couple will be married in Salt Lake City, Utah and will have a reception in Rexburg on Dec. 17.
Tietjen is from Rexburg and was born in Pocatello. She served a mission for the LDS church in San Jose, California and served as a performing missionary in Nauvoo, Illinois.
In an interview with Idaho State Journal, the 23-year-old, who is studying Spanish education at BYU-Idaho said she met Egunjobi through a mutual friend, who invited him to a party.
"I met Olu in my car," Tietjen said.
She kept her distance at first because she had just gotten out of a relationship. She later sent him a text and told him she didn’t want to date him, but he asked her if they could talk about their relationship in person. She put it off until one day she couldn’t avoid it anymore, and the two sat down and talked.
"Everything he said was answers to my prayers," she said.
She was leaving for vacation for a couple of weeks, and the two decided to see where they were after that. They kept taking, and when she got back they spent time together and went dancing. When Egunjobi said he needed to do some homework, Tietjen invited him to her house so they could spend more time together.
"By the end of the night we were dating," she said. "That day was perfect."
It was February when they started dating. They had a lot of fun together during the coming months. They eventually talked about marriage and decided it would be a good idea for Tietjen to visit Egunjobi’s family in Nigeria. She took the trip to Nigeria in September. They visited Olumo Rock, a rock people come from all over the world to see because of its rich history. The people used it as a hiding place during a war.
"It’s like an icon for the city," Egunjobi said.
It was there that Egunjobi asked Tietjen to marry him, and it was that night the couple realized they had gone viral. Egunjobi thinks all the attention was partly because of where and how he proposed, and also the fact that he proposed to a white woman.
"It’s not something that happens every day," he said.
He said when people in Nigeria do propose it is not usually public. Tietjen said she had gone to bed and couldn’t sleep when she received a text from Egunjobi. The text showed pictures of them on a website.
"I was like, ‘What?’" she said.
She ran out and asked what was going on and was quite surprised at first, but she said after that it was fun to see herself and her fiancé being so widely recognized. She said it made them feel special. They were recognized by multiple people in the area, and a security guard even asked if he could take a photo with them.
Their photos were spreading all over social media, in newspapers and on blogs.
Although most of the people in the United States who hear about their relationship react positively, others react with concern or confusion.
"I feel like in general most people are like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s pretty cool,’” Tietjen said.
She pointed out that the Rexburg community isn’t very diverse, and it isn’t common to see biracial marriages in the community. But the couple doesn’t blame people for the way they grew up.
Some have asked Tietjen if her parents were OK with the engagement, and some were concerned about the clashing of the couple’s cultures. Some have even said hurtful things out of ignorance or spite, but Tietjen said the opposition has made them stronger.
"Everyone comes from a different culture," she said. We have a lot of differences, but we have a lot of commonalities too. ... Olu’s a person, and I’m a person."
Egunjobi said he, too, has definitely seen opposition to his decision to marry a white woman. However, he says while he cares what others think to a certain extent, if he doesn’t agree with someone’s opinion or thinks it doesn’t make sense, he doesn’t let it get him down.
There are cultural differences and challenges, but the two make the most of them and do their best to communicate. Tietjen said they both have good communication skills, and this has helped them work through any differences. She is learning to make African food and learning some of Yoruba, one of the languages spoken in Nigeria.
Seeing other examples of interracial relationships has helped Tietjen’s family become more comfortable with her decision. She said a couple in her church ward is made up of one person from the U.S. and one from Nigeria. Tietjen’s mother talked to the couple and asked how they overcame their cultural challenges. They told her the culture differences are a small portion of their relationship, and most of their issues are just because they are two different people.
"In the end it’s not going to matter where we’re from,” Egunjobi said. “If the love is there the color shouldn’t be a barrier."
He said people shouldn’t be afraid of cultural differences. The differences do pop up, he said, but communication and meeting in the middle really helps. He said if there is someone out there who likes someone of a different race, he or she shouldn’t let the differences get in the way.
Tietjen said she not only loves Egunjobi despite the differences, but she loves him for the things that make him different and special.
"I’m so in love with the guy of my dreams, and he just happens to be from Africa, and that’s why he’s the guy of my dreams," she said.
She said they are grateful to live in a time in which they are able to be together, as interracial marriage hasn’t always been legal in the United States. Egunjobi said the first thing people often think of is whether one will have to live away from their family, but he said if a couple gets serious and they are from different countries, they can figure that part out. They can travel back and forth and make a plan. He added that Africa is a very safe place, and Tietjen said it is a fun place to be. One thing she liked about Africa was that the people know their heritage so well.
'These people know exactly where they came from,” she said. “It’s cool to be rooted."
The couple said for students and community members who want to learn about other cultures, there are groups on campus that celebrate different cultures. They said it is a good way to expose oneself to something different. Egunjobi feels that differences make things stronger and better, like a Yin Yang or the combination of black and white on a piece of art. He said differences are supposed to make people stronger, not tear them apart.
"In the end we all have blood running in our veins, and it’s all red," he said.