Tae-Eun came to the United States to study differences between people. She is well-traveled anthropologist and over time has gotten used to a life of a foreigner. She remembers time when her hometown in South Korea first encountered workers from Cambodia and Vietnam. These workers looked different and the residents of her hometown felt rather intimidated but Tae-Eun had a little bit different approach to these differences.

“When my hometown started having immigrant workers in 1990s, I was a young child at that time,” Tae-Eun says. “I noticed that people were afraid or just little bit cautious about interacting with those people who have different skin color and they don’t speak Korean obviously. But my farther was one of – or I think he could have been the only person who always tried to say ‘Hello’ to them with Korean or sometimes with his broken English. And that really affected me I think. I just thought, oh, when I meet these different people, I don’t really feel afraid I really feel friendly and I am just really curious.

“I actually talk to a lot of homeless people when I’m on light rail. I think sometimes they notice that I am from another country and they want to talk to me about my country. There was this one homeless gentleman. Somehow we had a conversation for fifteen minutes and later he followed me to say ‘Miss, I really appreciate the conversation I had with you. Thank you for talking to me. Not many people really talk to me.’ That was something I want to remember.

“The other day what happened to me, I was at a light rail station standing with a refugee mother and she, of course, didn’t know how to take light rail or busses. So I was helping her out with those things. And there was a very-very old gentleman next to us, standing. He approached us and I was a little bit worried but his face was full of smile and he started asking whether she is treated well here. He said he’s worried for people because right now we don’t have very nice political landscape anymore for these people. That was really something I really wasn’t expecting to hear in that kind of random place.

“You cannot underestimate the differences because there are differences, really. But I think the point here is the differences should not stop you from talking to that person or understanding the person from the positive perspective because you never know actually what you’d learn from that person and you never know what that person also gets from interaction with you. Because the small thing that happens in your everyday ordinary situation is actually related to those big things happening in the world, although you might not notice right now.

“One by one, you start one, other people start ten, and the other people will start like twenty. And that’s going to make a better society definitely. Although it will take a long time!”

listen to Open Conversation episodes also every Tuesday on KJZZ 91.5, NPR member station in Phoenix, Arizona, a bit after 9:30 am PST.

music by Loopstache, Julie Maxwell
recorded, produced by Regina Revazova

note: this content is intended for listening. This transcript might not be accurate. We advise to listen to the podcast to get full range of emotional highlights and other story elements.

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