“We Are the Foreigners”

Author: sethskim  |  Category: Values, Viewpoint

 
foreigner-at-airport
Photo from Empire and Sleep
 
 
 
I have found myself constantly repeating the phrase, “we are the foreigners, not the Indonesians.”

When it comes to doing cross-cultural missions, it is easy to see everything from a self-centered perspective. Christina and I have been feeling some of the frustrations of not being able to communicate fully in Bahasa and wondering why people cannot understand simple English. But this is when we have to constantly remind ourselves “we are the foreigners” therefore, we are the ones that should do a better job of speaking Bahasa.

Both Christina and I had experiences so far that made us realize that in order to do survive out here, we are the ones that need to go the extra mile. The other day, Christina was asking a worker at a huge store where a product was (she did some pretty good charade motions) and they responded by motioning back to her that they did not have it. Then, when she was waiting in line to pay for other merchandise, she realized that what she was looking for was on the shelf in the checkout line.

Today for me, I was trying to find a simple keychain to put all my keys together. Since many of the employees did not speak English I was trying to use my car keys and house keys to illustrate that I needed a key chain. I thought I was fluent in body language, but apparently I am not that fluent and I need more practice. They directed me towards the auto section (because I used the car keys to illustrate) where there was no keychain to be found! Then out of frustration we just gave up because the kids had to get ready for bed.

Not being able to fully communicate has been humbling on several levels. First of all, it makes us dependent on people to help us. Any thoughts of wanting to be independent or self-sufficient are completely thrown out the window. Every fiber in my body that does not like to be dependent on people is learning to be stretched. We feel bad when we have to text or call various people to help translate or communicate certain things to a national. Sometimes we just feel helpless.

Secondly, it is causing me to become more understanding and patient. Whenever we see things just from our perspective then everyone else is at fault. But when we are able to pause and look at the situation with a bigger perspective, it helps us to understand more. There is a part of me that wonders why people can’t speak the most spoken language in the world. But this is when I have to remind myself that “I am the foreigner” and I am in a host country… I SHOULD be the one learning to speak THEIR language.

The people in Indonesia are so nice that they will not say anything about my limited Bahasa directly to me, but at times I could tell from their looks that they do feel frustration. It is not a good feeling when people dismiss you or even have a look of disdain due to the lack of communication. We still have not been ridiculed, but there have been a few moments when a lack of understanding and impatience has caused people to give us looks.

The more I tell myself that I am the foreigner, the more I take on the learner posture. It has been good for me.

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