Unexpected Love While Studying Abroad: IES Abroad Santiago Alumni Justin & Mónica Hicks

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When Mónica (Melendez) Hicks (IES Abroad Santiago, Fall 2014 | Rice University) decided to study abroad in Chile, she wasn’t looking for love. Nevertheless, she met Justin Hicks (IES Abroad Santiago, Fall 2014 | Southern Methodist University), and the two spent the semester sharing adventures and building a relationship. Fast forward three years, and they celebrated their wedding with many of their lifelong IES Abroad friends in attendance. Read their story as they tell it below:


“Our love story is the stuff of fairy tales – just two college juniors in search for adventure who instead found each other 4,901 miles away from home.

“Justin and I met in the fall of 2014 during our semester studying abroad in Santiago, Chile, along with 18 other peers. As fate would have it, we both happened to be from Texas; he lived in Dallas, and I lived in Houston.

Santiago Fall 2014 cohort

“Early in our friendship, we bonded over our travels to Cuba and our Christian faith. We all know God works in mysterious ways, and on many occasions, I had prayerfully asked God to one day, in His time, bring me a God-loving man. Although we did not know it at the time, on our first group trip to Viña del Mar, God presented me to Justin in the form of a fellow companion also looking for a place of worship away from home.

“Over time, our quiet and distanced walks to Iglesia Bautista Ñuñoa for church became warmer and friendlier as we shared more of ourselves with one another. Soon enough, Sunday gatherings were starting with, instead of ending with, morning church services.

“Thanks to my gracious host family – MVPs for sure – Justin and I spent many lunches and dinners at my house, sharing laughs with my host grandparents as they dropped obvious glances my way.”


“On October 26, Mónica and I shared a kayak ride on Lago Villarrica in Pucón, where we learned more about each other's families. The next weekend, we found ourselves with Mónica's host mom, Pola, at the Chilean coast between San Antonio and Valparaíso, where we continued to get to know each other. During our last few weeks in Chile, we knew that our relationship was special.

Justin and Monica pose in front of kayaks

“Mónica and I both had the same returning flight back to the United States, after which we had breakfast with my family right outside the airport, before saying goodbye to each other.

“Nearly six weeks later, on January 24, 2015, exactly six months after meeting each other in the Arturo Benitez Airport (despite having ridden on the same nine-hour flight to Santiago), we began dating.

“We continued seeing one another, despite the 250-mile distance between our two schools, Southern Methodist University and Rice University. Throughout the remainder of our junior and senior years, Megabus helped bridge the physical distance in our relationship by making it easy for me to go to Houston often and spend time with Mónica. FaceTime and Skype allowed us to see each other every day.

“In the last two years, I've helped Mónica learn how to ride a road bike and even ride more than 30 miles at a time. Together we've taken on many mountains and hiking trails, summiting a mountain of more than 14,000 feet this past summer in Colorado. We've celebrated many milestones with each other and our families.

“After graduating from college in May, I moved to Houston for a job, and to be close to Mónica. Being in the same city meant we could spend time with each other on a daily basis. It didn't take long for me to realize that I wanted to make that my reality for the rest of my life.”

Monica and Justin in graduation caps and gowns


“On September 10, 2016, Justin proposed to me on a day trip to Minneapolis alongside a beautiful waterfall in Minnehaha Park, all of which was secretly captured by our great friend and IES Abroad companion Jenn, who also happened to capture our first photo together when we were in Chile.

“Nearly two and half years into our journey, we married on June 25, 2017, with nearly half of our IES Abroad family present. While neither of us were looking for love, much less a marriage, to come out of our study abroad experience, Justin and I are eternally grateful for the role IES Abroad played in bringing us together, and for that, and so much more, IES Abroad Santiago will always hold a special place in our hearts.

“Since getting married, we have visited five countries together, continually fostering our love for travel – a love that was ignited through our study abroad experience.”

Will love be in the air when you study abroad? Read advice from our Ambassadors on How to Study Abroad While in a Relationship.

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