In all my life I would have never believed the amount of empathy and deep connection I could feel after a singular encounter. It occurred during my internship, and I, as the intern, had a bunch of little jobs to do. However, today was different because my co-worker and I had a visitor. His name will be left out due to personal preference, but what is important to know is that he is in his early thirties, recently immigrated to Dublin from Italy and is currently residing with a friend of ours who is a priest. We were both tasked to go over upcoming Mass readings and tried to tease out a theme between the readings. It was slow going at first, with a few minutes dedicated to explaining what exactly we were doing, but things really got rolling after reflecting on the first reading for May 29.
It was from 1 Kings and was essentially about how people should be welcoming to others who are different than them — the outsiders. I asked him which words stuck out after reflecting on the reading. He impressively and immediately responded with the word “foreigner,” and I gave a smile as my heart cracked a little bit when I answered, “Same.”
Let me explain…
I am in my early twenties, so people in the workplace believe me to be inexperienced, and take me less seriously than a forty year old.
I am a practicing Catholic, and Catholicism in Ireland isn’t as prominent as our preconceived notions make it out to be. It’s quite rare for a twenty year old to place importance on the Catholic faith.
I am an American, which brings up stereotypes involving entitlement, laziness, and intellectual capabilities.
I have a darker complexion. With a skin tone that’s darker than most of the native population in Ireland, I’m questioned about my ethnicity/nationality while simultaneously fielding assumptions about my place of origin.
Essentially, I am not “normal” to typical Irish society. And in an instant, I knew that my newfound friend felt the same way.
So actually, over the past few months, I’ve been able to get a firsthand experience of feeling like an outsider. Whether it’s being asked about my accent or my complexion, it’s been made clear that I’m different. I came to Ireland with the idea that, because I’m a native English speaker, adjusting to the culture would be easy, but just because you share the same language as another country doesn’t mean you speak the same language. Don’t misunderstand me. I’ve learned so much from my experiences abroad, and I wouldn’t trade it for almost anything, but it’s made me aware of what it’s like to be a minority in a foreign land.
Guys, the people who we dub as “foreigners” are completely and fully aware of how different they are in comparison to mainstream society. Please be empathetic and sensitive. They know that they pronounce words differently, they know their mannerisms are different, they know they look different. Don’t say the first thing that pops into your mind. When you meet someone “foreign,” reflect on how you would want to be spoken to if you were in a culture different than your own. No, this is not being too “politically correct,” it’s about treating people who were born in a different nation than your own as deserving of equal respect and dignity that you would expect.