It technically wasn’t love at first sight for Omer Onder and Goknur Akarca, but it was close.
The two are both Turkish natives, even previously living in the capital city, Ankara. However, they never met overseas. Instead, a mutual friend led to their meeting in Boston last November. Two months later, they were married.
“It’s a romantic story,” Onder said, holding his wife’s hand.
As of Aug. 1, Onder, owner of Springfield Diner LLC – soon-to-be renamed Klasik Diner – and Akarca are living together in the Queen City for the first time in their brief relationship’s history. Neither of their families was able to attend their Jan. 22 wedding ceremony, but a post-wedding celebration later this month is set to remedy that. Each will have family members attend an Aug. 17 gathering in Connecticut to celebrate their marriage.
For now, the couple is settling into their new rental home, which they just moved into at the start of the month.
“We’ve moved everything, but we couldn’t unpack anything for our house,” Akarca said Aug. 2 at the diner. The couple took a brief break prior to the restaurant hosting its weekly Turkish dinner, held every Friday night. “We’ve just been working here.”
Akarca helped prepare food for the evening meal, but has no plans to become a diner employee.
Akarca, who graduated from Ankara University – same as Onder – finished medical school and completed her residency in pathology at Gazi University, also in Ankara. After 10 years of education, she became a licensed pathologist in Turkey. However, she said in the United States, her residency isn’t recognized.
“This is why I need to take my residency again here,” she said.
It’s part of the process for international students and doctors wishing to practice medicine in America. A medical licensing examination program must be complete before a residency can be pursued. Akarca said she’d need to pass six steps of exams, estimating it will take around 18 months to successfully complete.
At one point, she expected to just be in Boston for one year conducting research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. There, she was assisting with cancer treatment studies at the medical facility as a research fellow. She even maintained ownership of a house and car back home in Turkey. That was before she met Onder, adding after she fell in love with him she decided to stay in the U.S. Her parents have since sold her car and are using her former house, Akarca said with a laugh.
While in Boston, their mutual friend told her Onder would be available if she ever needed anything.
Onder said he received a similar message to help Akarca out if she ever contacted him.
“She didn’t know how many miles we are both away from each other,” Onder said, adding he later learned it was 1,444 miles.
When asked the date of their first communication, Onder struggled to remember. Akarca quickly jumped in to answer.
“I can tell you, Oct. 10,” she said with a laugh.
The first phone conversation, initiated by Onder, lasted about 90 minutes, he said. The next day, she called him, with the two quickly moving to FaceTime video calls for much of their conversations.
“I could share anything with her. I had that feeling,” Onder said. “I could talk about anything, my business, about my friends who lived in Turkey or my school.”
In Akarca, Onder said he found someone he had wanted all his life and had no desire to play games in the relationship, like wondering if and when he should call or text.
“When I talked to her, I saw not her face, but I could see her heart, I could see her soul,” he said.
By the time Onder came to visit Akarca in Boston for their first-ever face-to-face meeting, the two were boyfriend and girlfriend. But butterflies were definitely present that day, they each admitted.
“I didn’t know how I’d act when I’d see him in real life,” she said. “I was so nervous about that before he came.”
Onder’s initial visit lasted four days, and Akarca reciprocated with a trip to Springfield the next month. Little did she know, Onder had marriage on his mind.
Change of plan
Originally planning to propose at Lake Springfield, Onder had balloons, candles, flowers and fireworks. Then he got word from Akarca that her flight was delayed and she wouldn’t be able to make it to Springfield until 14 hours later than planned. Booking a flight to Kansas City was decided as the alternative.
“That delay on the flight changed my plan,” he said. “I took everything, the candles, balloons and everything in my trunk.”
He picked her up late at night at the Kansas City airport and proceeded to drive back in the dark, looking for a suitable place to propose. The weather wasn’t helping matters, as he said it was bitterly cold with snow on the ground.
“We can barely drive 20 mph from Kansas City to here,” Onder said. Ultimately, he settled on downtown Harrisonville as the proposal site. He exited the car to retrieve the contents of the trunk, but failed in his attempt to blow up the balloons in the cold.
“I told her I was going to check the engine and I open the trunk,” he said with a laugh, adding he eventually got her to exit the car as well. Waiting for her was Onder holding a ring. Wedding bells rang five weeks later.
Initially, the couple was uncertain who would move where, before they determined Akarca could study in Springfield for her medical licensing exams over the next couple of years. That would allow him to continue running the diner.
However, the future location for Akarca’s residency is an unknown.
“That’s a really hard question,” Onder said of the couple’s future home. “We don’t even talk about it.” He said they’ll wait until 2021 to deal with that topic.
“I’m not thinking about just closing the doors to the restaurant, or just leave the restaurant and let someone else have it,” he said. “I’m not thinking that because it is like my baby.”
“Yeah, I know that,” Akarca replied with a laugh.
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