Monday, February 11, 2008

"You have a very interesting resume"

That means the interviewer thinks you are strange. And what is strange? Strange means you are not like them. It means they do not understand you. It means they are looking for someone more like themselves.

Excerpts from Wild Wild East:

"Webster says: A STRANGER. 1a: of, relating to, or characteristic of another country : 5: having the quantum characteristic of strangeness synonyms: STRANGE, SINGULAR, UNIQUE, PECULIAR, ECCENTRIC, ERRATIC, ODD, QUEER, QUAINT, OUTLANDISH, meaning departing from what is ordinary, usual, or to be expected."

Strange means you may have been to places and know of things that they don't so the word interesting is inserted instead. It's not a form of curiosity - unfortunately - it's more of a criticism, a way of pushing back from the table.

"One look at all those descriptions and it’s easy to tell why people from other countries can be misperceived or misunderstood. Strange, outlandish, eccentric and odd - queer, erratic, and peculiar – these are certainly not the words we want to describe the person who’s coming in to manage your company. So maybe there’s a basic problem in using the word foreigner to describe people from other countries – but in Korea you will be a foreigner, like it or not.

Many of my expatriate friends have experienced the initial shock of being labeled foreigner and they tend not to like it, but Koreans, being from a homogeneous country with a Confucian value system, where everyone has a place in the hierarchy of the group, don’t see anything wrong with it. To Koreans it simply means that that person is not part of the group. And that is exactly the point:

The first thing one needs to learn in moving from a Western to an Eastern culture is not who you are, but who you are not."

Talking with friends and relatives back home is a little bit different. At any gathering or cocktail party you are obviously the zebra in a room full of horses and they are all very curious to learn how and where you got your stripes – for about twenty minutes. Then their knowledge of Korea or Vietnam turns to MASH and Apocalypse Now until it finally wanes and the conversation jumps to Bob's issues at the country club or Bert's new Lexus.

How odd to have been the foreigner when I initially moved abroad and now to be one again when I go back home or deal with American's there.

A few years ago I had a speaking invitation to about 250 Korean graduate students who were all planning to study abroad in one field or another. My subject was marketing. Reading through my resume and reviewing the Powerpoint it became obvious that most of the information was just gobble-dee-gook on paper. Couldn't I tell the story better in pictures? I gave a 2 minute run-through of my credentials...blah, blah, blah – university this – big agency/big client that, blah, blah, blah – and then said, wait – "All of that data on paper just tells you what things are. I want to show you how it all feels." I then proceeded to show the following film. I've edited the ending a bit to reflect the last couple of years just to keep it current for new audiences.

"The Guild of the Infant Saviour on East 86th Street in New York in 1956 was approximately 6885 miles and exactly thirty-nine years away from Seoul, Korea in 1995. Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis would play their last comedy show together at the Copacabana just a few blocks away that year and Elvis, singing Hound Dog, would electrify the Ed Sullivan show in the same city just a few months later. But things were reasonably less grand at the Guild of the Infant Saviour, a home for unwed Catholic mothers just a few blocks south of Gracie Mansion on the East River and adjacent to what was then Misericordia Hospital at 531 East 86th. It was here that Shawn Michael Everitt would begin his journey"

How does one get from New York to Illinois? From Illinois to Texas? From Texas to DC? From DC to Chicago? From Chicago to Korea? From Korea to Vietnam?

"I would be asked in Korea much later, how it felt to be a foreigner in a strange land and my response was simply this: When you’re adopted and have traveled by car from Jersey to Illinois at the age of three, you’re already a foreigner – doing it one more time is just no big deal."

Now the thought occurs to me that I should edit the film one more time – to explain to Americans about my time in Asia – or just make a whole damn new movie. Or write a Book?

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