We have all had moments in our lives where we have felt foreign. The snippets below provide insight into specific “feel foreign” moments of our followers. Thank you all for sharing your experiences with us!
On July 19, 2015, the Paquette and Wong families were joined through marriage. With my family coming from Winnipeg, Montreal and Hong Kong, and my husband’s family traveling from Northern Ontario, it is almost certain that our families’ paths would never have crossed had it not been for our wedding. It was heart-warming to see our extended families meet for the first time…my husband’s children now had new cousins to play with…my parents now had new grandchildren to “spoil”…and it was fun watching my father-in-law eat jelly fish for the first time at our wedding reception! (We told him it was cold noodles.)
When I moved to Calgary from Tanzania, Africa at age 16, I had no idea that I would be on top of a ski hill 16 years later skiing with my family! My Canadian husband takes what the western world has to offer for granted, but he learnt it all over again from my perspective, whether it was watching hockey, learning to skate, or enjoying a hot chocolate out in the cold with s’mores! When our son was born, I embraced winter sports and learned that a family that ‘skies together, stays together’ and have since been on many a ski adventure across North America!
The first time I felt completely like a “foreigner” was when I attended the National University of Singapore as a Canadian exchange student. While many of my fellow exchange students actually “looked” like exchange students, I completely blended in until I opened my mouth and my inner “gweilo” was revealed. Even though I sounded Canadian, I did not look like the stereotypical hockey player nor was my skin “white”, which really threw the locals off. This experience inspired me to create non-profit organizations like HUM (Healing Using Music) - dedicated to connecting people through music and the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers - an organization promoting diversity in the legal profession.
My husband and I are originally from China, but our 3 year-old son David was born in Calgary, Alberta. True to his Canadian heritage, he has become a passionate hockey fan! Here he is at the Olympic Oval showing off his 'cute outfit' after our Chinese New Year dinner. A week later, he enjoyed his first live hockey game at the Hitmen’s Lunar New Year Game. The players even game him the game puck as it hit the glass partition right in front of us!
Growing up in a multi-generational Chinese household, I was used to opening up the refrigerator door to jars of chicken feet and seeing whole chickens (head included) defrosting on the ping pong table. These experiences, although commonplace in our household, remained off-putting to me. Accordingly, I never developed an appreciation for Chinese food and my “picky eating” made me feel like a “foreigner” within my own family. Years later, I moved to Montreal, married a self-proclaimed “white trash vegetarian” and we had a son. Two years ago, my son was “traumatized” by witnessing a fish being removed from its tank at a Chinese restaurant and then ending up on a plate in front of us moments later. I realized that excluding Chinese food from our family menu was depriving my son of an important part of his heritage. We now find little ways to celebrate Chinese culture and the other day, we even went to Chinatown and ordered a whole fish for dinner, eyeballs, tail and all!
I travelled to Hong Kong for the first time recently for a business conference. With a day to kill before the conference, I took the opportunity to get in some sightseeing. When lunch rolled around, I decided to stop into a local market to play a game of Russian roulette with the food offerings I couldn’t identify. I decided to try a seemingly innocent looking wrap - a popular town special, called “The Husband”. I have a pretty solid stomach, but after two bites, I couldn’t handle the fish paste seasoning and had one of those embarrassing foreign moments when you look like a “nutter” spitting fishy pork into a nearby garbage can.
Growing up in Saskatchewan, I never thought of myself as “exotic”. This picture was taken near Amman, Jordan. In this country, the younger girls were extremely interested in having their picture taken with me…apparently because of my blond hair. As soon as one got the confidence to approach me the others wanted to join in! I guess in some parts of the world, a girl from Saskatchewan is considered “exotic” and a paparazzi target!
My son David came to Canada at age six. We had come from Southern China and he did not speak a word of English. Being parachuted into an English speaking environment was not easy. David went through three phases in his first school year. 1st term - he did not understand what was going on; 2nd term - he began to understand; 3rd term - he started to speak. The other kids were surprised, “You can speak!” Their school shared the building with the Metro Toronto School for the Deaf. The other kids had assumed he was deaf as he did not speak for the first few months! Today, David is 22 and will graduate from McGill University this spring. He landed two job offers in his 4th year - one from Morgan Stanley and one from Amazon. He will join Amazon Robotics this summer.
Having grown up in a multi-cultural home, I have at least a basic understanding of a couple of different languages, which is useful when travelling. China was the first country I visited where I had absolutely no foundation of the language. During my trip in 2011, I felt so lost. I could not understand anything that was said to, or around me, nor could I read anything! Without the ability to verbally communicate, it was difficult to make it from Point A to B, or know what to order off a menu. I am now studying Mandarin so that I am better prepared for my next trip to China. I will never forget the humbling feeling of being lost in a city, and having to rely on the kindness of strangers and creative body language to get around!
During my first trip to Hong Kong, I learned that I am gweilo. Fortunately I was accompanied by my partner, Bonita, who had been to Hong Kong many times and knew the literal translation of the term gweilo in Cantonese: “ghost man”. That made sense; I am a white guy. Bonita is Chinese. So there I was, a stranger in a strange land, with a new gweilo identity to try on. During this trip, I was exposed to some things I had not expected – many of them involving food. (By the way, you don’t eat the head.) Although I was there during the tail end of the Occupy Central movement, this was not the part of my Hong Kong experience that stayed with me. More memorable was a local TV news story on a Hong Kong hockey league, dim sum dinners, and the special moments meeting Bonita’s extended family and visiting their home.
In grade 7 I came to school wearing cornrows and a boy in class said I looked like a boy. I never wore my hair like that after that experience because I felt so embarrassed. After that comment, my self-esteem dropped and I felt angry. As a young black woman I felt like my appearance would always be looked down on. But now you see celebrities like Kim Kardashian making cornrows the spring trend of 2016. This frustrates me. However, today I am in love with every strand of my natural hair and I strongly embrace it…not because Kim Kardashian wears cornrows…because it’s me.
A highlight of our wedding day was the tea ceremony in honor of our parents, who come from vastly different cultures --- Chinese on Elaine’s side and Dutch on mine. As a show of duty and respect, each set of parents was served tea by the bride and groom. However, the custom of pouring tea does not stop at the tea ceremony. As a son-in-law, I seem to be expected to show my respect constantly during meals at Chinese restaurants. With every gentle nudge of my loving wife’s elbow (three to five minutes apart), I am reminded to top up my father-in-law’s tea cup. Perhaps that’s why the cups are so small --- to ensure that the husband never stops serving his in-laws!
I was fortunate enough to travel to 12 countries in 11 weeks and experience the feeling of being a foreigner in many different cultures. During my time in Kyoto, Japan, I was “accompanied” by a group of students through the Shogun castle. They practiced their English skills with me and allowed me to learn even more about the culture, history, and people of Japan. Their kindness and willingness to talk to me made me feel much less foreign and more of a world citizen. This experience gave me an even deeper appreciation for those people living and working in Canada that have come from abroad and how a simple conversation can leave such a positive experience for them.
I was 25 years old when I moved from Canada to the Czech Republic on a work transfer. One of my many ‘feeling foreign’ situations in Prague happened at the ‘potriviny’ (Czech equivalent to a 7-11) when I was still new to the country. I needed to buy ice for a party, but the older lady working at the potriviny did not speak any English and I did not speak much Czech yet. After about 20 minutes of me performing charades, shivering and pretending to make cold drinks, she finally understood and with a big smile, brought me a big bag of ice from the back!
I had many new and alien experience in my first couple of months in the States, when I came for college. However, I distinctly remember one instance where we, the international students were asked to share our cultures with elementary and high school students as part of the cross-cultural outreach program. I shared glimpses of my life in Sri Lanka and shared our culture through dance and music. To my surprise, the students treated us like celebrities asking to take pictures with us and asking for our autographs after. This one instance, there was something cool about feeling foreign.