This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Love blooms at English Language Institute

Couple that met at UB now have daughter attending the university

Published: February 22, 2007

Reporter Staff Writer

Parents outside her office during new student-parent orientation are not an unusual sight to Kathy Curtis, associate director of the English Language Institute (ELI), but the last thing she expected to hear from the couple she had met before the fall 2005 semester was a love story spanning three countries and decades.


Mari Talai holds a photo of her parents, Hamid and Akemi, who met 30 years ago while studying at UB’s English Language Institute. Hamid and Akemi are shown in 1977 in the foreground of the photo below.

In the summer of 1977, Hamid Talai of Iran and Akemi Homma of Japan met while students in the ELI's Intensive English Program (IEP)—a 12-week language instruction program for international students—and fell in love. The relationship was more than a summer romance, however; Curtis found them back at UB after nearly 30 years of marriage because their youngest daughter, Mariamu (Mari) Talai, was an incoming freshman.


Now a student assistant in the ELI Chat Room program—a forum in which international students practice conversational English with native speakers—Mari says the work she does in the office that brought her parents together has provided a glimpse into her mother and father's lives when they were her age.

"Since I'm working and seeing different people learning English together," she said, "I'm kind of seeing how my parents met."

Although she had heard stories about her parents' time at UB, Mari noted that it feels different now that the places they talked about are a lot closer to home. Her father pointed out the site of his first date outside her residence hall as she moved onto the North Campus a few years ago, she says.

Her father recalled that first date with his future wife took place on the small island in Lake LaSalle, near the Ellicott Complex.

"Without ELI, we might not be together today," Hamid told the Reporter during a recent conversation. "We ended up in the right place at the right time."

Shortly after they met during the program's opening party, everyone in the tight-knit IEP program could tell Hamid and Akemi were an item—including Curtis, who helped organize student activities at the time and lived in the residence halls as an assistant director of ELI.

Helping each other learn English turned out to be the perfect path to love, Hamid said.

"We were always together at ELI," added Akemi. "First it started by being in the same classroom. Then he helped me on homework. Later, we did our shopping, sightseeing and other activities together."

She returned home to Japan at the end of the summer, however, and Hamid transferred to Brockport State College to pursue a bachelor's degree. Almost no news about the couple made it back to Curtis until the pair showed up out of the blue in 2005 to tell her their story.

She discovered Hamid had taken a great leap of love: he had moved to Japan after less than two weeks at Brockport. "I was not on this planet at that time," Hamid said, referring to his lovesick condition. "No degree, no job and almost no money," he added. "I could not be sure of anything when I headed to Japan, but I knew I had to do it one way or another."

He started studying a new language in Tokyo only months after studying English at UB. "Akemi's family was very nice, especially her mother and father," he said, "but learning the language was hard. I spent two and a half years learning Japanese well enough to study with Japanese students." They married after spending about a year together in Japan. Among the guests was an old friend from UB.

The couple had two daughters—Mari and Mina, an architecture student at the New Jersey Institute of Technology—and moved to the United States about 15 years ago. An architect at Brookhaven National Labs, Hamid had earned a master's degree from the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Akemi works for Yamato Transport, an international shipping company.

Mari, a sophomore interested in history and Japanese, said she thinks the most romantic part of her parents' tale is that her father moved across the world to join her mother in Japan.

"I'm sure it was a culture shock because Iran and Japan are such different cultures," she said. "All the effort he put in—it shows the love."