Kayla Medica and William Hwang met on social media and "really hit it off". (Credit: ABC licensed)
When Kayla Medica and William Hwang walk down the street holding hands, people turn their heads.
And it's not just because the 23-year-old Sydneysider is noticeably taller than her Chinese-Burmese boyfriend.
"We get a lot of looks … the height is probably one of [the reasons], but race is the one that actually makes people comment when they walk past," she says.
"I've had someone ask was I not able to get a white boy, and I was like, 'What?'"
Kayla, from an Australian-European background, has been with her partner for more than one-and-a-half years.
The couple met on Instagram when they were both managing business accounts in similar industries, and thought they could collaborate.
Although they "really hit it off", she says they had their reservations after meeting in person because they are so different physically.
But they kept talking and had "the best conversations".
Kayla says while her family has been accepting of their relationship, her partner's parents weren't the most open to their 34-year-old son dating a "white girl".
But she notes his mother was impressed by her homemade pasta.
Discovering new dishes — trying foods one would never even have considered taking off a shelf — and learning about different cultures are commonly seen as benefits of intercultural relationships.
"His mum gives him food every weekend. I eat some of it, and I'm like, 'I have no idea what's in this, but it's really good'," Kayla says.
Traditions like Christmas also open new doors.
"Because he's never [celebrated] Christmas before — I [was] super excited and I started decorating the apartment.
"He comes home and he's like 'What is this? What does it mean?'"
Family challenges help forge bonds
Nathalie Lagrasse, 37, and her girlfriend Nicole Domonji, 28, have faced a common hurdle to get their families to accept their sexuality, due to similarities between the Mauritian and Slovakian-Serbian cultures.
Nathalie says Australian families of previous partners were more open to homosexuality.
It's a cultural difference but religion is also a factor, she explains.
"My immediate family are definitely OK with my sexuality, but extended family wouldn't be as [much].
"Nicole's grandparents still wouldn't really be OK about her being gay.
"They know that she's gay, but she would never be able to bring me to an event — that would be a big thing."
Nathalie, from a Mauritian background, believes it is easier dating someone facing similar challenges because of the mutual understanding.
"I remember I had an Australian partner before and they just couldn't get it, like why my family was so backwards with it, and it was very challenging to have to deal with that," she says.
The Tinder effect
There's a growing number of intercultural couples in Australia as the country becomes more ethnically diverse.
In 2016, about 30 per cent of registered marriages were of partners born in different countries, compared with 18 per cent in 2006, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The proportion of marriages between two Australian-born people have gradually decreased over the past 20 years — from 73 per cent of all marriages in 2006, to 55 per cent in 2016.
Kim Halford, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Queensland, says times have clearly changed.
"In my own family, we have German, English, Japanese, Scottish and Mexican heritage, which gives us a rich tapestry of cultural traditions to draw upon," Professor Halford says.
"It is possible to savour Christmas, Mexican Day of the Dead, and Japanese Shinto child-naming ceremonies — which gives us lots to celebrate."
A recent study found online dating could also be contributing to the rise in intercultural marriages.
Economists Josue Ortega, from the University of Essex, and Philipp Hergovich, from the University of Vienna, graphed the proportion of new interracial marriages among newlyweds in the US over the past 50 years.
While the percentage has consistently increased, they also found spikes that coincided with the launch of dating websites and apps like Match.com and OKCupid.
One of the biggest jumps in racially-diverse marriages was in 2014 — two years after Tinder was created.
"Our model also predicts that marriages created in a society with online dating tend to be stronger," Dr Ortega wrote in his paper The Strength of Absent Ties: Social Integration via Online Dating.
Navigating 'interesting challenges'
When asked about the benefits of intercultural relationships, Sydneysider Pauline Dignam swiftly replies with "cute babies", to which both her and her husband, Michael, laugh.
The couple, who met at church in early 2015, have encountered a number of quirky cultural differences.
For example, Michael learnt Filipinos generally eat a lot of rice — and like to have rice with everything.
"Initially when I started visiting the in-laws' place, there were times when we'd have beef stroganoff and I was looking for the rice," Pauline recalls.
"Why is there no rice? That is so strange."
Michael also notes the "interesting challenge" of dealing with "Filipino time" — which refers to the Filipino stereotype of a person who is frequently late.
However, he says his wife has become more punctual after their marriage, and her focus on family also has a positive impact on his family.
The 29-year-old finance analyst says that during their pre-marriage counselling, Pauline mentioned she wanted her mother to live with them and help take care of their children in the future.
"The Filipinos are very family-orientated … it's expected that families will look after their parents," he says.
"I hadn't really fully taken that on board, that that's what she wanted, so I just had to get comfortable with that idea.
"And thankfully for us, we have really good relationships with our in-laws … so that was OK to get my head around."
Professor Halford says it can be a challenge to recognise, respect and accommodate subtle cultural differences in relationship standards, or beliefs about what relationships should be like.
"In many Western countries a couple is expected to develop their own life independent of their family of origin," he says.
"However, in Chinese and other collectivist cultures, maintaining strong relationships with parents and other extended family is expected."
'It's like watching Steve Irwin'
Australian Stuart Binfield and his South African-German wife Monique Schierz-Crusius have been together for more than three years.
Monique, 28, sums up their cultural differences as "he's pretty laid back and I'm pretty German".
"I'm pretty punctual … and like to organise everything and Aussies are a bit more laid back and relaxed," she says, using their "mega honeymoon" as an example.
"[Stuart] was going to organise how we were going to get from Naples Airport to Positano, and he was like, 'We'll just wing it when we get there, it'll be alright. We'll just catch a train and then another train and then another train'.
"I was like, 'It's going to take us four hours', so then I just went over his head and booked private transport because it was much easier, and it was worth it."
Stuart says he likes having family overseas because it lets him experience a culture in a short period of time.
He says he's also made many foreign friends through his wife, including close friends he wouldn't have mixed in the same circles with otherwise.
Monique describes her husband as "entertaining, like watching Steve Irwin from the Discovery Channel".
"Sometimes he can be super Aussie."