In 1999, the year after coming to California to work at NASA in Mountain View, Indianapolis native Mike Gaunce enrolled in an adult education Spanish class that changed his life.
“I love studying languages, traveling and meeting people. And a lot of people speak Spanish, especially in California,” he said over dinner recently at Santa Clara’s Fish Market Restaurant.
The first person he met in his Spanish class was his teacher, Citlalli Del Carpio, a native of Mexico.
“She’s a very beautiful woman, so I noticed her right away,” said Gaunce, initially concerned that even the beginning class was above his level.
“I don’t know if I should be in this class,” he told his raven-haired teacher.
“Why don’t you sit down until the class is finished and see how you feel?” said Del Carpio.
So Gaunce sat down — and stayed the year.
Life in California was not easy for Del Carpio, a single mom who had moved to the Bay Area from Arizona in 1997.
“I hadn’t met people,” said Del Carpio. “It was hard to make friends in California. During the day, I took care of my daughter. Then at night, I got a babysitter and I taught Spanish.”
She was touched when Gaunce sent her a Christmas card and called to thank him. The two-hour phone call led to a date at Teske’s Germania restaurant in San Jose.
The student and teacher continued dating for one year, drawn together, by a mutual love of travel, nature, hiking, music and the arts. And Spanish.
Gaunce proposed to Del Carpio in Mexico City on a trip to meet her family. They married at Hakone Gardens in Saratoga on July 1, 2001, followed by a reception at Picchetti Winery in Cupertino.
They honeymooned in Quebec, Canada. It was just the start of their world travels — even to an ice hotel in Sweden.
“If we’ve got the time and the money, we go!” said Gaunce, who moved with his Spanish teacher to Santa Clara in 2004.
“There is no easy explanation to why you are attracted to someone,” said Gaunce, a NASA mission manager for SOFIA, the largest airborne observatory in the world.
“In love, observe and respect your partner,” said Del Carpio, now teaching Spanish full time at Stanford University. “Don’t take things related to cultural differences personally. And learn the language of your partner.”
Love is a language of its own.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a column where we casually interview people we meet in Santa Clara. The column hopes to highlight what makes Santa Clara special — the people who live, work and play here.