Want to understand inclusion? Travel somewhere new.
My hands-on, head-first lesson empathy, inclusion, and belonging.
Last year I made a promise to myself. It’s the same promise I’ve made every year before it, the same promise I’m sure many of you have made as well.
When I tell people I’ve never been out of the country before (other than Canada, but we all know that barely counts), I’m always greeted with shock. I suppose something about me has given off the air of “well-traveled,” but the truth is I’m the farthest thing from it. There’s a myriad of reasons that kept me from it, but the primary is fear of the unknown — fear of getting out of my comfort zone.
That all changed on February 10, 2019. Just a few weeks after beginning my new role at Joonko (👋), I hopped on a plane out of BHM to spend two weeks working with my new teammates in Tel Aviv.
I’ll be honest with you, I had no idea what to expect. I let my travel anxiety get the best of me and decided it’d be better to focus my energy less on planning and more on actually getting there in one piece. Some might say I was ill-prepared, others might chime in saying I was over-prepared. Either way, I knew the second I landed I was walking into a new chapter for myself that was going to provide so many surprises and so much self-discovery along the way.
Here’s the part where I could talk about everything I saw, everything I ate, and all those other amazing Eat/Pray/Love style revelations we all come to expect from first-time travelers…but I’m pretty sure my Instagram did a decent job summing all that up. I want to talk about something a little different, a smaller revelation: language.
I grew up in a home where multiple languages were spoken, so I’m familiar with the feeling of “foreign” that comes with not knowing the words being said around you. I knew walking into a new country would bring cultural barriers, but I didn’t expect to feel the impact of unfamiliarity as much as I did — especially considering everyone I encountered spoke English, most signage had an English translation, and most restaurants had an English menu option.
And yet, there was still something ever-so-isolating about walking around and not understanding the lyrics to a song playing in the background, the conversations overheard at a bus stop, or even the inside jokes referenced around the office between my new teammates.
While I attempted to “tune it out” and focus on my present self in the moment, it felt hard to drown out my insecurities of being an “other” in this new environment. Despite everyone’s amazing efforts to include me and cater to my non-Hebrew-speaking needs, a nagging part of me still felt left out.
And that’s when it hit me: Empathy.
This entire experience gave me a new sense of profound empathy.
People come to America all the time not knowing our language or our cultural idiosyncrasies. The most close-minded of us assume they should arrive here knowing all these things, but the reality is there’s no amount of Googling to prepare you for the context of existing in a country whose language is not your own.
By the end of my trip, I began embracing Hebrew. Attempting my hardest to not butcher the few phrases I had learned, singing along to those songs in the background, while also laughing with my new coworkers as they perfected their English pronunciations with my added Southern Valley Girl ‘twang.
Language could have distanced us, but ultimately it bonded us through this new experience together. Talk about a great first lesson on the job.
Head of Marketing, Joonko
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