On my flight back to the states I had a 3 hour layover in China. It wasn’t long enough to go out and explore the country at all and frankly, all I could think about was getting back to America. So, I found a comfy airport seat, pulled out my coloring books and went to town. While I was minding my own business coloring my dinosaur picture, I heard a beautiful sound. The sound of people speaking English.
I can’t explain to you how nice it is to hear your native language being spoken when for the last 8 months all you’ve heard is a language you don’t understand. Unfortunately, that beautiful sound I was hearing quickly turned to something not so beautiful as I heard the words “I’ll tell you one thing, I’ll be da**ed if I get pushed by a Chinese person in my own country. It’s my turf, that better not happen on my turf!” As I heard these words, I turned to see a man, probably in his early 30’s telling his mother how much he hates the Chinese people and he is so happy to be leaving the country.
I couldn’t believe he was berating a culture that had just employed him, sheltered him and provided him financial stability for the last 12 months. There were many times while in Korea that I felt mistreated, unwanted and under appreciated. I wondered how much of that was genuinely what the Korean’s felt about me and how much of that was my perception based on things I couldn’t understand due to the inability to communicate.
As I crossed through the Chinese customs lines to catch my next flight to LA, I felt the same way, pushed aside and rushed through the “Foreigner” line. It’s a weird feeling to be an immigrant in another country.
But then… I arrived in America, and I realized, China, Korea, and America could all afford some additional training in sensitivity to cultural diversity.
As I approached the first line to get through customs at LAX, I was approached by a man who whispered to me “Are you American?” I told him yes and he motioned for me to come with him. He explained I was standing in the U.S. Citizens line but they had allowed non U.S. citizens in “our line” because the lines were so long. I explained to him I had an 11 hour layover and I was in no rush to go to the front of the line to which he replied “But you are American, you deserve to go to the front of the line.” I thanked him but told him I was fine waiting. I was completely disgusted by his actions and his ignorance in assuming that just because the people standing around me didn’t look the same way I did, does not mean they don’t speak English and can’t understand every word he is saying.
I patiently waited through the very long line to get through the first checkpoint to again have the same thing happen in the second line. This time, I was approached by a man in a security uniform. He simply said the words “Come with me,” so I did as he said, unsure of why he was pulling me out of the line with at least 20 people standing in front of me. As we moved away from the crowd he said “You are American right?” I answered yes and he said “Okay, come to this line it’s much shorter.”
I wasn’t wearing my American Flag t-shirt or my Texas Rangers baseball cap so I’m unsure how someone can take a two second look at me and without hearing a word from my mouth just assume I am American. If there is one thing I learned from my time in Korea is that you absolutely can’t make an assumption about where someone is from based on their appearance. I met South Africans who I assumed were from England. Canadians who I thought were American. In my own journey to self discovery, I realized just how ignorant I was to other cultures. The Lord has blessed us by allowing us to live in a world filled with people from all walks of life. I look forward to the day we are all embracing that instead of continuing to ostracize ourselves and stay in our comfortable bubble.