In the past, if I heard anyone speak with an accent, I would always wonder where they were from but would never ask. I thought it might be rude or make them feel uncomfortable. Well, I’ve thrown that notion out the window. For someone who is trying to be global from home, that just won’t work. Over the past several weeks, I came in contact with three individuals who were clearly not born in the U.S. based on their accents. Rather than just smiling politely and going my own way, I took the risk of asking where they were from.
The first was a Mexican man who was working at a restaurant here in OKC. I noticed he was a little shy telling me where he was from, but when I immediately responded that I had recently been to Mexico and really enjoyed exploring it, his mood visibly changed. He began to tell me about his hometown, how long he had been in the States, and then asked me my opinion on safety in Mexico. He said he had not visited home in years, but based on the news, he questioned how safe it would be to return to Mexico with his family.
My second experience was with a man who had recently come to the United States from Iraq. He told me about having to leave his wife and baby daughter in Baghdad but has hopes that he will be able to bring them over soon. He told me he wants to get his master’s degree in engineering and how his father went to college in the U.S. at the University of Georgia. We ended up spending several minutes talking about taking the TEFL and the quality of the Georgia football team this year.
The third person I met owns a furniture store in Atlanta and moved to the U.S. from Turkey 18 years ago. But before coming across the pond, she also lived in France and the UK. She talked about having her mother still in Turkey and the challenges of going back home to see her three or four times a year. She told me how she speaks four languages and her brother speaks five. We talked about technology and how something that is suppose to help connect us, often disconnects us from the person sitting beside us.
What I’ve been discovering is that behind the accent there is a story. Leaving your home country and moving is never easy – there are language challenges, family left behind, and new customs to learn. And while I certainly hope that I’m not offending the people I meet, I am so curious to hear about their stories. I am entranced as they tell about what they’ve overcome to be where they are, and I’m eager to hear why they left the familiarity of home to come here. In the end, each time I ask the question “Where are you from?” I believe I am taught something new about the world that I never would have learned if I had to decided to be just be polite and mind my own business.