By Kim Jansen
News Report Staff
What started as a social game of online poker with players from across the world, turned into a whirlwind romance for a local man and his, now, wife.
Both, Eric and Samantha Casselman, love to play cards, so when Facebook introduced a poker game where players could play for fun with Facebook users from around the world, they both were immediately hooked.
Eric would play from his computer at his home in Altamont, and Samantha would play from her computer in Mumbia, India.
One night, the two ended up in the same game, after the Facebook game randomly selected nine players from throughout the gaming site.
During the game, Samantha was messaging a friend, whom she had invited to join the game, about her upcoming vacation. Because Eric could see the message through the gaming site, he asked Samantha if she was from India and about her upcoming trip.
“I have a circle of Indian friends, and I had been to India once before. So when I was playing, I saw that she was chatting to one of her friends about places she would travel in India,” recalled Eric.
From there, the couple became “Poker Buddies” through Facebook, which quickly turned into a Facebook friendship. Soon, they began messaging each other on Facebook, and then, they began video chatting.
“My friends knew that I liked to play cards. I like to play Rummy and do magic tricks, so my friend was talking about playing cards online,” said Samantha, who said she quickly became hooked to the social game. “I really enjoyed it. It was just a lot of fun.”
But, she would have never guessed she would meet her future husband during that random card game in the Spring of 2009.
“One day, I logged on to play poker. You play with nine random people from all over the world, and Eric happened to be one of the players,” said Samantha with a laugh.
After almost a year of communicating to each other over the Internet, the couple decided to meet in person in the Spring of 2010, after Eric came up with a good excuse to travel to India.
He laughs remembering that he told her he was coming to India to research corrective eye surgery.
“I was very comfortable going there because I had been there once before,” said Eric of the trip.
However, he added he was nervous about meeting Samantha in person.
“It was my first experience getting to know someone online. I never knew it was possible to get to know someone so well through Skype,” he said. “Meeting someone online is so different than meeting someone in person. She needed to see me, and I needed to see her.”
When Eric told Samantha he was traveling to India and would like to meet in person, she was thrilled.
“Is he really going to come here? This was always in the back of my head when I was chatting with him,” she said. “So, when he actually said he was coming, I was so surprised and shocked. But I was also so excited at the same time.”
After meeting at the airport, Samantha and Eric began spending time together, with Eric planning to spend a month in India to see if he and Samantha were meant to be.
Five days into the trip, the couple was engaged to be married.
Eric extended his trip another month and traveled with Samantha and her family to Thailand, but then, he had to head back to the United States, returning in June 2010.
“I had gotten really close to her, and I was really sad having to leave her,” said Eric.
The couple spent the next couple months communicating online and planning their wedding, which would take place in India in Spring 2011.
Then, from September to December of 2010, Samantha came to Illinois to visit Eric, who was living in Urbana at the time.
Although the two knew they would be getting married the following year, they decided to go ahead and get legally married in the United States, so that they could begin the process for Samantha to apply for her Green Card.
“I came, explored the place and met his family. I really fell in love with the place,” said Samantha, who added she had a dream come true during the trip because she was able to see snow for the very first time.
At the end of December 2010, Samantha returned to India, where she continued finalizing plans for the wedding. In April 2011, Eric joined her in India, with the couple getting married on May, 21, 2011.
After setting their wedding date, the couple realized the date was an important anniversary for them.
“We were looking back on our Facebook timelines to see when we met, and it said we became Poker Buddies on May 21,” said Samantha, adding neither had a clue that was a special date when they were setting their wedding date.
Once they were married and had returned to the Effingham area, Samantha decided to apply to become a U.S. citizen, which required her having her Green Card for five years and for her giving up her Indian citizenship.
After completing the application process and passing a test about the United States, Samantha became a legal U.S. Citizen during a ceremony just a couple months ago on August 4.
“I feel happy, and I feel accomplished,” said Samantha. “I studied so hard for the test. When I went to take the test, it was a piece of cake.”
Although the process for her to become a citizen took a few years, the couple remained positive and worked through the system on their own, without hiring a lawyer.
“We just trusted our hearts,” said Samantha.
Having grown up in a big city, Samantha enjoys the little things about the Effingham area, including the lack of pollution, the quiet community and the light traffic.
Samantha, who was a music teacher and choir leader in India, now works as a piano, keyboard and vocal teacher at Chesnut Music in Effingham, and she sings at Sacred Heart Church.
“They welcomed me with arms open,” she said. “Everyone here is so hospitable, kind and warm.”
She also has picked up some hobbies while in Effingham, including working on do-it-yourself projects.
“I have learned to do a lot of things that I didn’t know I could do,” said Samantha. “I have become my own craftsman in a way. I even fixed my own garbage disposal.”
Her hobbies also have included starting her own YouTube channel, featuring her cooking show, Baby Goose’s Kitchen. On the channel, she highlights different recipes and demonstrates how to make different dishes.
Eric supports his wife, her job, her hobbies and her singing.
“I attend church with her and support her,” said Eric. “I get tears in my eyes and goosebumps just listening to her sing at church.”
Eric added he likes to sing too, but said he doesn’t have the voice. Although Samantha quickly corrected him saying, “He has a great voice. I always tell him he can sing bass.”
The couple continues to play cards together, but now in person, instead of over the Internet from different sides of the world.
Eric said although he usually builds up more winnings than Samantha, he was quick to admit that Samantha has a better poker face.
The two still can’t believe how a game of online poker led to a future together.