Early this week I returned from my vacation in Slovenia (*). It was a marvelous trip where I can spend a quality time with my family who lives there. However, during these two weeks in the rural Slovenia, Austria and Italy, I met a lot of people who always asked me where am I from? And when I mentioned that I am from Peru, most of them said to me that they thought that I were from Italy and that I am the first Peruvian that they saw in that part of Europe. They never thought to see a Peruvian in those lands. Nevertheless, I felt that they were very welcoming with me.
After reflecting for some days, I realized that this experience that these Europeans have had with me is the same experience that most of the Washingtonians had when they met a fellow from an “exotic” country. Living in DC for almost a year, allow me to understand that there are two kinds of Americans, one is more progressive, empathetic and they want to know about other cultures. The other Americans are more conservative, they believe in building walls or to ban people from specific countries, and they are not interested to meet people from other countries or with other culture.
In my mind, I was asking how conservative people could be welcoming with fellows from “exotic” countries? I do not have an answer (yet), but I believe that we (the fellows) are ambassadors of our countries and cultures. I understood that we are in charge to #BuildBridges among these people who do not know anything about our countries and they do not want to know at all. At the beginning, it is natural to have fear to the unknown, but people will only understand what they know. That is why I feel that the only way to be welcome and to be respected for these conservative people is introducing you and your culture. Having a kindly intercultural communication with them could allow you to put yourself in their shoes. You could be shy, but I believe that the only way to build a solid bridge is when you overcome this fear. Both sides have to know and respect each other. We have to stop blaming others for not building bridges and we have to start building a solid bridge changing our perspective and to meet others who treat us as THE others.
Moral: Sometimes we talked about to build bridges, but the first step, in my opinion, is to demolish the wall that we built against these people who discriminate others. You have to feel lucky because you have the opportunity that they might not have, travel to another country and to speak more than one language. Building a solid bridge means have more fellows from different cultures in the United States who have the courage to talk with all kind of people and be an ambassador of its own culture and country. Therefore, it is important that we support an Atlas Corps fundraising campaign.
Soundtrack: Another Brick in the Wall, Pink Floyd
(*) This note is for non-fellows or non-alumni. Our stipend as Atlas Corps fellow does not allow us to travel abroad or to have a lot of commodities, you have to be a “rich fellow”, it means that you have to have savings or as it was my case, you have to have a cousin that did not allow you to spend any penny.