Living as a stranger_ at Santa Barbara from South Korea, Seoul
Today is the day that I’ve felt the greatest sense of accomplishment since I came to the States. I couldn’t take step ahead because I was paralyzed by the fear of failure and just spent a couple of months in uncertainty.
I have always supported Fair Trade
and yet I couldn’t refute critics who said it was just idealism and clever marketing because my knowledge of fair trade was not sufficient. To be honest, I myself was sometimes skeptical about the actual differences between Fair Trade and “regular” trade: were the practices Fair Traders spoke so much about REALLY being practiced? I’ve always felt the need to meet fair trade farmers in person and live with them so that I can answer the questions I have had. Yet for me to go somewhere to meet fair trade farmers is not easy since every day is spent with homework to be done and classes to attend.
Meanwhile, thanks to people who willingly believed in me and supported me, I came to get an opportunity to live with fair trade farmers during vacation. In addition, the friend who I’m going with to Chiapas, Mexico is a young expert when it comes to Fair Trade, which will absolutely be a great learning opportunity. I feel so honored to be going with him to Mexico to be exposed to reality and to hear the voices of Fair Trade in the flesh.
While there, I should have a certain degree of firm knowledge about Fair Trade and be able to learn a lot, which made me look for various videos about it and check out books relevant to Fair Trade from the library to search for the cases. In the first book I grabbed, ‘Buying into Fair Trade” by Keith R. Brown’, on the very first page, I found out the author wrote this essay based on his experience from Nicaraguan Campo through ‘Global Exchange’ which is the same organization that I am going with. The trip I’ll attend is also a learning tour through ‘Global Exchange.’ (Global Exchange calls these “reality tours” and defined it as “a human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic and environmental justice around the world.”) Reading what I couldn’t expect, I felt as if I were in Chiapas right now.
Since this opportunity is given to me thanks to people who willingly gave me unlimited trust and support, I promised myself that I’m gonna prepare a lot and, for 4 months before going to Chiapas, I’ll learn Spanish, which will hopefully help me to interact with farmers.
Actually, I could not let go of this opportunity so easily even when it looked like I have to give up. Three days before the last day of voting, I came to receive an email that I am not qualified for entry because I am not a citizen. I cried all day without thinking anything. Actually I thought desperately, “Why do I always fail whenever I face a challenge? Why do I fall down every time I try to step ahead from the past? How many times more do I have to fall down and overcome again and again till I grab the opportunity?” And that whole day, I kind of experienced what it would be like to live as an alien, a foreigner, in a certain society which I can’t belong to easily. The life of people who have come to Korea as a laborer, teacher and student. I could not accept the fact that I failed. At the very moment I was about to give up, thinking this might not be a my path to go, I remembered one sentence from the “terms and conditions” which the fair trade organization sent me at the very beginning of this contest, which says entries must be ‘a legal resident of the USA’ not a citizen. I read that many times and it didn’t mention ‘citizen.’ And so, I asked politely about what I came to find out. And they sent me a link back, which showed me the definition of citizen and what I should do to be a citizen. Well, its not!!!!!!! I’m sure there is a huge difference between legal resident of USA and citizen! I emailed them back for more details and they said, “sorry for confusing you. I’ll email you back after we talk to our lawyer.” In this way, I had to go through this process with incomplete English. I refused to yield to this situation just because of the barrier of language. I wanted to solve this problem by myself, using my voice regardless of what the result would be. And finally I got an email that I’m qualified. I was so excited as though I already won the trip to Mexico.
Living somewhere where people use their own language, not mine, is not an easy thing at all. If I had been in Korea and encountered this situation, I would have emailed them right away in a polite way. But here (America) when I have to talk about a certain topic where lots of legal terminology and words we don’t use in daily life come out, I have zero idea about what to say as if I became a kid in the middle of adults talking about real estate and stocks and I just keep my mouth shut. That is why I give a hand to myself for daring to go just one step ahead with courage.