There’s no doubt that 2020 has been a tough year around the globe.
Courtney Van Hoosen, global outreach officer in Nebraska’s Office of Global Strategies, hasn’t been immune to the stress of the past nine months — but a recent life event has left her with a plethora of happy memories to look back on.
Van Hoosen eloped to Santa Barbara, California, with her partner, Nurik Makhmudzoda, in February. The couple, who have been together for more than four years, say they’re thankful for the pre-pandemic timing of their special day and having each other to lean on as quarantine continues.
“We got back March 3 from California — and then it was that next week that everything started shutting down,” Van Hoosen said. “It was interesting getting married and then going through lockdown. But I’m glad that I was stuck with Nurik, because that’s the person who I chose to be with for the rest of my life.”
Van Hoosen and Makhmudzoda first bumped into each other in 2015 at an event for the College of Business’s Career Readiness program, which helps international students prepare for the U.S. job market. Van Hoosen, a domestic student representative, was giving a presentation at the event while Makhmudzoda, a student from Tajikistan, was in the audience.
Makhmudzoda recalls Van Hoosen as being talkative and friendly. However, the two didn’t officially meet until 2016, when they were both members of New Student Enrollment’s International Welcome Team.
“I think it’s funny that we crossed paths before — sort of the same story that always happens here. Nebraska is a smaller place than you realize,” Van Hoosen said.
At the time, Van Hoosen was a senior international business major and Makhmudzoda was a junior finance major.
“I had to work pretty hard to get Courtney’s time, because she was in a bunch of clubs,” Makhmudzoda said. “I thought it would be a great idea to start a wing night on Wednesdays for our coworkers. My primarily selfish goal was to hang out with Courtney. She did come a couple times, and then we got to know each other a little better.”
Luckily for Makhmudzoda, the feeling was mutual.
“He was basically the reason I went to wing night, too, because I don’t actually like wings,” Van Hoosen said.
The couple had their first date at a performance of “Once” at the Lied Center that fall. When Van Hoosen graduated in May 2017, the two continued to date long-distance.
“I knew that I wanted to teach English abroad after I graduated, and I got accepted into the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program,” Van Hoosen said. “I was nervous, because we hadn’t even been dating for a year at that point. But three days before I left, I got to a place where I was like, ‘You know, I think we can do this.’ So we did the whole long-distance thing with a 14-hour time difference, and I came back, and it all ended up working out. We got a lot of practice with video calls before quarantine ever happened.”
“I didn’t want to be in any way holding her back,” Makhmudzoda added. “So when she told me that she was thinking of going to Japan, my first reaction and answer was, ‘Yes, go ahead. Do what makes you happy. Follow your passion.’”
In the fall of 2019, Van Hoosen and Makhmudzoda visited his family in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Shortly after they returned home, Makhmudzoda proposed following a “Phantom of the Opera” performance at the Lied Center — where the two had their first date three years prior.
Eloping was an appealing option, and the couple unknowingly scheduled their trip for one of the last normal weeks in the United States.
“One of the main reasons we eloped is that we wanted to do something for ourselves,” Makhmudzoda said. “It was a hard decision to make, because I’m a very family-oriented person, and it was hard to not have my parents around — but we just wanted something for both of us without any stress of inviting 100 people, finding venues, doing all the bachelor parties and things like that.
“We had a couple of friends that eloped to California, and I told Courtney, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Van Hoosen and Makhmudzoda took the week off to visit Santa Barbara, where they wrote their vows on castle ruins near the city. They were married at sunset on the beach on Leap Day.
“I loved every second of it,” Van Hoosen said. “We kind of made it into a mini-honeymoon, as well. We went surfing, had so much good food, and we did a little bit of hiking. We rode bikes. The ocean was a 10-minute walk away. It was an absolutely incredible time.”
The two hope to have a ceremony with friends and family when it’s safe to do so, but in the meantime, Van Hoosen says she’s glad to have Makhmudzoda by her side during the pandemic.
“Even on the days when I feel down or I’m sad about something, Nurik always manages to make me smile,” Van Hoosen said. “Being able to spend time together and have him be there when the mental stress of being locked up gets to me has been really nice.”