Flying internationally is a lesson in trust. You have to trust someone you don’t know with your luggage, you have to trust that the runway is long enough for the plane to takeoff, you have to trust the pilot’s ability to get you safely to your destination, you have to trust that mere air will support a several ton airplane thousands of feet up. If you can’t trust you can’t fly.
Yet we humans, especially the well traveled ones, are struggling daily to trust each other. We may trust the pilot with our lives, the engineer with our safety and the baggage handler with out possessions yet if we had daily dealings with these same people we may not be so trusting.
A disadvantage to living overseas is that you become intimately acquainted with the appearance of a culture. For example, if you lived in Korea for a year you may learn much about the Korean people as a whole. You would be able to pick out the particular strengths and weaknesses of Korean culture as only an outside observer can. However, this would only be the an appearance of culture. We all see foreign cultures through our own particular biased lens. This is not a bad thing, this is simply a fact of humanity. (The fastest way to achieving an unbiased opinion is to continually remind yourself that you are, and will always be, biased.) The problem is when you only see a culture and lose sight of the individuals.
When I, with my sister and father, left the hotel in Incheon to head to Seoul I was expecting to explore a culture. We did. The three of us walked all over downtown Seoul. We walked through markets and saw all kinds of different and uniquely Korean things. But we did more than explore a culture; we learned to see individuals in the crowd. Whatever stereotypes we had brought with us were not enough to describe the Korean people. Stereotypes are never enough.
Sometimes the more jaded world travelers find themselves relying a little too heavily on stereotypes. After all, stereotypes and generalizations are an easy way to explain something you simply don’t understand. But there are those times when individuals surprise you, when someone doesn’t seem to fit a cultural ‘norm’, where help is offered unasked, where a friendly word is spoken in the din; these are the times when faces materialize out of the crowd.
It is in situations like this that you realize that words like Korean or Canadian (or any other nationality) do not do enough to describe individuals. I am a proud Canadian but “Canadian” is not sufficient to describe me. I am so much more than Canadian (and so much less). To simply write me off as Canadian, or any other number of generalizations that could be used to describe me, is not to trust in the fact that I am more than what I appear. It takes trust to take that step beyond generalization. The Korean people reminded me how each of us deserves some trust… Actually it was handful of helpful and friendly Korean individuals in downtown Seoul that reminded me that each of us are complexities that passports cannot decipher.
If we can trust a ten ton metal bird that can fly across the ocean we should be able to trust people. People can do things a plane cannot do: strike up a conversation, ask you if you need help and even give you directions to Seoul Station.
– Mark Fisk