Friday, March 5, 2010

Daring to befriend a stranger

This is an teen article for which I hope to soon find a home! Thanks for your comments and thoughts.

I sat in an apartment in France thinking, “I really don’t know what’s going on. I really don’t know what they’re talking about. I don’t know what they are laughing about.”

I had never felt so alone or isolated as I did sitting in a room full of not just strangers, but foreigners. Even though French was a language I had studied, the blur of sounds refused to shape themselves into words I could recognize.

You may be saying, “Yes! I know what you mean!” Or you may have never experienced this. But there are some different ways that anyone can make foreigners feel welcome, whether they are in your school, church or neighborhood.

First off, go and talk to them. I know that it can be hard to take the first step. You may feel pretty stupid at first if you don’t understand what they are trying to say. Realize that they have already been brave in leaving their familiar world. Most of the time, they’ll love trying out their English or learning more from you.

Second, be their friend. It may be harder work than with your other friends as you try to communicate or understand each other’s differences. They are going to be thrilled to have someone take an interest in them and will frequently help you out. Try to speak slowly and clearly, without clich├ęs—no one understands what it means to “go the whole nine yards.” Understand that jokes and word plays are not very funny when you’re the only one who doesn’t get it. There are lots of games that are easy to explain and don’t require lots or speaking or reading like UNO, Jenga or puzzles. If you want to watch a DVD together, check if it has subtitles in their language or at least in English. Remember that going to the movies is fun, but without subtitles, it might just be too hard for them. Music is a universal language, however, and you might find that you share some favorite artists.

Third, make them feel welcome and show off your part of the world. Invite them to a family weekend on the lake. If you’re going to a local museum, see if they want to come too. Remember, they might never have seen American celebrations you take for granted, like weddings and graduations. Take some time during a Fourth of July barbeque to share some USA history with them.

However, don’t just make it about you and your country! You can learn a lot about their country, customs and foods. Be daring! Sample that soup with the funny name, nibble some of that stinky cheese, maybe even try wearing their traditional garb for a day. Ask them to teach you how to say “hello”, “thank you” and “please” and then use them when you are together. Even if you say it with a horrid accent, they will appreciate the effort you are making and will love hearing even one word of their language on a regular basis.

Finally, take time to learn more about their religion and be sensitive to their beliefs. For instance, don’t serve beef for dinner to a Hindu or pork to a Jew. Understand that this doesn’t mean you need to stop doing things, like praying over your meal. Even most atheists will tell you they don’t mind you giving thanks. Use opportunities that come your way, like questions on the difference between your religions. For instance, if your foreign friend wants to do something Sunday night when you have a church activity, invite them along. Don’t put pressure on them, but ask if they are interested in knowing more about Christianity.

Being a friend to a foreigner can make a big difference in their experience in your country, whether they are visiting or living there. So be daring and befriend a stranger.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent ideas & insights. Sounds like you've been onboth sides of that experience!