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Marc and Sahel with waterside in background

By Gabrielle Russon

This is a love story about two bookworms on opposite sides of the world.

Beacon College has a handful of married couples working on campus, but to celebrate Valentine’s Day, we’re profiling one couple’s extraordinary international tale.

At Beacon, Marc Roberts is an English instructor while his wife, Sahel Ebrahimi, is an adjunct faculty member in the humanities department and works full-time as a writing consultant at the Robert & Jane Weiner Writing Center.

Marc, a native New Englander, had started his new job at Beacon College in 2016 at the same time Sahel was pursuing her own education and living in Iran.

Marc noticed Sahel was one of a handful of people who liked the same Facebook post about a quote from the Paris Review in 2018. He was curious. He messaged her, eager to chat about a graphic novel with an Iranian character that he just read. She was intrigued. How often does someone reach out to a stranger to talk about books?

“Nobody asks me about books. Even my friends around me, they’re like, ‘Oh You read too many books! Don’t you have better things to do with your time?’” Sahel said, laughing. “It just was really interesting that somebody was asking me about a book and Iran’s culture. We started talking and sharing our interests. … We had really nice conversations.”

The American and the Iranian kept talking to get to know each other.

They sent messages back and forth and then started video chatting. On their video chats, the start of Marc’s day was the end of Sahel’s because of the eight-hour time difference that separated them.

Their cultural backgrounds couldn’t be more different. Sahel lived in a country where women were mandated to wear a hijab -– a covering for the hair and neck that some Muslim women wear — outside the home and traveling abroad was difficult, but her relationship with Marc felt natural, she said.

“Marc hasn’t let any cultural shock or conflict come between us,” Sahel said.

They bonded over literature and the pen pals became best friends.

Sahel came from a family of big readers. Her mother was a teacher who encouraged her children to read.

Marc’s family were diehard sports fans, so it was a middle school teacher who inspired his love of reading and pushed titles on him to check out.

Now as adults, both Sahel and Marc are now prolific readers and share a passion for working in higher education.

After remotely communicating for 10 months, they finally met in person for the first time in Istanbul, Turkey, where they toured the historic sites on a weeklong trip in late 2018.

Marc appreciated Sahel’s kindness. He was going to learn, as their relationship deepened, she was the kind of person who didn’t mind helping him carefully pick out pieces for his wardrobe during back-to-school shopping.

“I think the thing I love most about Sahel is how good she is to me. She’s just really, really nice,” Marc said.

Sahel felt safe with Marc. Life was never boring with him. There was just so much to talk about and explore.

“I’ve never felt so comfortable and so safe talking to someone and sharing my interests,” she said. “It was just so easy to talk to Marc.”

Their long-distance relationship got easier when Sahel moved to Chicago to pursue her second master’s degree.

They got engaged at the beach in St. Augustine on a sunny afternoon, which was fitting, because Sahel in its Arabic origin means “beach.”

Still, as Marc pointed out, “I actually proposed to her on the beach in St. Augustine not because of her name, but that it was a place we really love.”

“I never expected it,” Sahel added. “It was one of the most romantic days of my life.”

They got married in a small ceremony by the water in Mount Dora in December 2020.

Now married for three years, they live in an apartment in Lady Lake that’s big enough to hold their collection of nearly 3,000 books.

“It’s kind of what we do. We read a lot,” Marc said.

They often read the same book with different bookmarks in their own private book club. They spend hours shopping for hard-to-find book editions in cozy, used bookstores.

“They’ll get on to a subject, and then exhaust everything they can find. They read every book imaginable about King Arthur,” said Cathy Vinton, a Beacon math instructor who has become friends with the couple who commute into Beacon every day together. “They are affectionate with each other, and you can just see that they respect each other so much.”