Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"Foreigner"

When I was ten, my family took a cruise. I remember the Cayman islands. I remember snorkeling and sightseeing. I remember fancy dinners and shows. And--more than most other things--I remember our stop in New Orleans.

We wandered around the French Quarter, munched on beignets at Cafe Du Monde, and eventually we made our way downtown. I will never forget standing on a bustling street corner in New Orleans, looking around, and realizing--for the first time in my life--that I was the minority. I had never (ever) been the only white person in a crowd. I had never experienced what it felt like to be the "other" and to be honest, I'd never really thought about it either. And while it was a brief encounter lasting maybe twenty minutes, I still think about it.

I still think about how uncomfortable I was.
How unsure.
How nervous.

And I wish I hadn't felt that way, but I did. Not because of who the majority was, but simply because I was no longer the majority. It made me think long and hard about how it must feel to regularly be part of a group that is not the norm.




Since that moment, when I was ten years-old, I've had plenty of other experiences
where I have not been the majority:
mission trips to Belize
vacations to Mexico
a year living in Cambodia
and of course, this experience in Korea.

And even after seven months in Korea, it's still not comfortable being the minority. I've found that sometimes, I feel outnumbered. I assume people are looking at me. Talking about me. I get defensive. I get frustrated when I don't understand the language. I tend to label and talk generally (=unfairly) about those around me. I feel isolated. And lonely.

And I don't tell you these things because I'm proud,
I tell you because I want them to teach me something. 

I want these rare occurrences of being the minority to remind me what it feels like
to live in a world that doesn't speak my language.
to feel helpless.
to be judged.
to have little kids stare at me.
to know locals make assumptions about what I must be like.
to hear people let out an audible "Oy!" when I come around the corner.
to live where I feel like I don't belong.

Because soon enough, I'll go back to being the majority again. We'll move back to America and I'll get real comfortable walking around in public and not thinking twice about my skin color nor the privileges that come with it.

What I've experienced being a temporary "minority" does not begin to compare with what many people encounter on a daily basis. I get to walk in and out of this status as quickly as I can get on a plane. So when I'm feeling weary of constantly being labeled a "foreigner" in Korea, it's important for me to remember what Pema Chodron says about pain:

"Millions of people all over the world have this discomfort, this fear...this feeling of not wanting things to be this way. This is my link with humanity."

And being closer to humanity can only make us better.
It's making me better.

















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