Heath Melrose expected his two-year stint with the Peace Corps in Moldova to change his life.
But he didn't anticipate meeting his future bride during his stay in the small Eastern European country.
"It just feels perfect, but, yeah, that was my last expectation," he said. "There's a joke in the Peace Corps that there's always one in every group, and there were actually three in mine (who are marrying Moldovans). ... So I guess it's not really a joke, that it happens a lot more than I imagined."
Melrose, 30, returned from Moldova, a poor nation nestled between Ukraine and Romania, about three months ago. The Enid native, who had never been outside of the United States before, spent two years teaching English in the village school in Caplani, a tiny town near the Ukrainian border.
When he returned to Oklahoma, among his first activities were dining with family and friends, wakeboarding on the Verdigris River in Catoosa, attending services at Life Church in Edmond and eating at Ted's Cafe Escondido. He began readjusting to American life and preparing for his new job as a special education teacher at Northern Hills Elementary School in Edmond.
"I'm really happy to be here, even if it's hard sometimes. I'm really happy to be back in Oklahoma," said Melrose, who lives in Edmond. "It's difficult to come back so changed in an environment that's so unchanged."
Establishing a stable life in his home state is a priority. He and his fiancee, Ana Ciudnaia, plan to marry in June in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau, where she is a university senior. They plan to live in Oklahoma initially, although Melrose hopes to live abroad again in the future.
"I've lived in her country and seen how they live there and how that's shaped her. ... She wants to come and live here," he said. "We're really lucky, and we're just excited about the uniqueness of it and the new experiences we'll be able to blend into our family."
In spring 2004, Melrose left his job as a special education teacher at Cleveland Bailey Elementary in Midwest City for the Peace Corps. He met his future bride shortly after he arrived in Moldova.
Ciudnaia, 23, is a Peace Corps employee who helps volunteers with documents, information and resources. She speaks several languages, including English, and lived in Virginia as a high school exchange student.