I totally agree. I’m Australian and I worked in Korea for a year. I learned that when you are travelling, ‘culture’ is this almost cute thing. It’s novel. It’s easy to try something once, screw up your nose or delight in it, and move on. You pat yourself on the back for trying something new and off you go, secure in the knowledge that you’ve experienced a new culture.
But you haven’t.
When you have to operate under the rules of an alien culture (I use that word because the ID in Korea is called an ‘alien card’), things look very different. You often make mistakes and offend people by accident. Their cultural differences offend you. It’s always an uncomfortable rubbing up against different ways of doing things.
I come from a multicultural country and moved to a monocultural one. I thought about race every day. I didn’t like that. It went against my principles, but it was in my face every day.
People who haven’t experienced it might struggle to understand what a big deal it really is. I obviously can’t say that I understand what it is like to be black in the US. But I do get that it’s real and that we need to listen more and be less defensive.
Thanks for a great article and sensitive commentary.