Friday, February 28, 2014

New place, new perspective

Since being back, I am constantly reminded of how much people make a place. When I was working for a racist, lying thief, I had quite a negative perception of Korea and Koreans. Although I knew that generalizations and stereotypes were detrimental ways to view the world, my experiences made me suspicious and paranoid. Was the bus passing me because I was a foreigner or because I did something wrong? Did that old lady push me because I had a different color skin or because age dictates her rights? Do people avoid speaking with me because they are nervous about carrying on a conversation half in English and half in broken Korean or because I am not one of them? Right or wrong, I lost the privilege of allowing people the benefit of the doubt from having to constantly battle for my basic rights to be observed. 

But now I am having such a different experience. I work with people who don't hate foreigners and who actually believe we are equals. As a result, I can overhear my name in a jumble of Korean that I don't understand without assuming they are spreading nasty rumors about me. I can walk on the street, receiving  curious stares, aware of the innocent intentions behind them. 

I know now that I went about this experience the wrong way last year. I waited to show my love and care and attention until I received it. Only then would I lower the defensive wall about myself. But I should have treated all strangers with that love and care--gratitude for their patience land allowing me space in their culture despite my lack of language skills and cultural knowledge. I recognize my mistake now. 

So Americans--when you encounter foreigners in your own land, what impression do you make of the place? Do you encourage paranoia or do you foster compassion and understanding?

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