What I Learned From People’s Fearful and Ignorant Reactions to My Travel Stories

Before I ever crossed an ocean, I connected with the rest of the world via then-newly-emerged social networking. I started making online friends from all corners of the globe, including countries such as Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

One day, someone I knew well told me I shouldn’t be talking to people from such “dangerous cultures.” I never expected such a remark from her, and it upset me greatly because I felt that she was speaking ill of people I had come to regard as friends. I went on Skype later and lamented this concern to one of these online friends.

“I thought she was better than that!” I said unhappily. “No, no,” my friend replied.” “Don’t say that. Don’t say you thought she was  better than that. Say you thought she knew  better than that.”

As I started to travel, I actually went to some of these places I had only ever experienced via the web, and I came to learn that I would receive similar responses to varying degrees. I would share a story of excitement, adventure and humor from my travels only to be met with a comment like “But that’s dangerous!” or “How awful! Weren’t you scared?”

These comments were usually frustrating because I would tell the story from a positive and interesting angle only to have it shifted to one of concern or chastisement.

This made me feel as though the person wasn’t really paying attention to what I had to say or was trying to twist and contort my experience. It made me feel misunderstood and even ignored. However,  when it came to handling reactions of fear to my travel stories, I’ve learned that sometimes it makes sense to speak up, and other times to let it go.

As my friend so eloquently put it, it really was just a matter of knowledge and not usually a reflection of the person’s character. A simple example would be people asking if I felt safe in China. When someone becomes surprised that I took a walk through the woods after dark, I explain that China has one of the lowest per capita murder rates in the world and violent crime is virtually unheard of. Indeed, even petty theft is an unusual occurrence in the country.

Further proof that it really is a matter of awareness can be seen when I was hunting for my first job as an EFL teacher. When I was offered this position in Northern Iraq, a close friend was horrified at the thought of me accepting it, and told me that I ought to refuse. However, I was puzzled when he was far more open to the idea of me taking a job in Sudan, a country that had also been wracked by violence and civil conflict in recent years. When I asked why he thought Sudan would have been better, his response was telling. “I know people in Sudan and they have said it is fine living there. I don’t know anyone in Iraq.”

People rely on what they know when they form opinions, and that influences the lens through which they view your stories.  

I once described an experience in Turkey to an American friend, where male employees at an old job became upset when I tried to walk home after dark. In fact, one of my male Turkish colleagues insisted that I let him drive me home. After hearing my story, my friend posed the question of whether walking home alone would have been interpreted as sexual promiscuity.

I was taken aback by this suggestion, but I reminded myself this must have been based on preexisting knowledge she had. I said I didn’t think so and that it was probably just a genuine concern for my safety. I illustrated this point by mentioning that my supervisor had been anxious about me walking home alone because he had seen construction workers nearby drinking alcohol and was afraid of how that might affect their behavior towards me. When she heard this, her sincere response was “Oh, well that’s not such a bad thing to say then.”

I’ve had similar conversations with people born and raised in the countries I have visited and people who have never set foot outside the United States. It is an inherent human reaction to fear what you don’t know or understand. But, as in this instance, I have learned not to be afraid of correcting and informing people. Perhaps surprisingly, a lot of people I meet are receptive to receiving new information and adjusting their perceptions accordingly.  

However, there are people who are so entrenched in this mindset of caution and fear that they will find some way of injecting danger or ignorance into almost every other sentence that comes out of your mouth.

When describing my time in Egypt, I mentioned that I wore a headscarf—before I could even finish my sentence the other person said “Yeah, you don’t wanna get caned!” I had to digress from my original point to explain that it is perfectly legal not to wear a headscarf in Egypt. I couldn’t even get through the whole story because I had to continuously stop to correct these kinds of interjections.

Thankfully, such people are few and far between, but I made a point to avoid discussing my travels with that person due to their ignorance. What people like this can’t seem to grasp is what I’ve come to call the “so-what” factor. This is the tolerance and interest in actually learning about other people and cultures that I have developed as a traveler.

I learned to see them for the trivial things they really are. Yes, people in other countries have said bad things about my country. So what? It’s just words. Yes, I’ve gotten my shoes stolen twice while in two different countries. So what? It’s just a pair of shoes. Yes, people have been discourteous to me because I’m a foreigner. So what? For every one person who has treated me poorly, I can count a dozen others who have offered me a helping hand I daresay because  I was foreign and I needed a little extra assistance.

At the end of the day, I’ve learned to think of myself as something of a travel experience to others. I usually go to a new country with a little bit of fear and apprehension in the pit of my stomach. Others may listen to my stories with similar emotions. While some may be unwilling to set foot outside of the proverbial country that is their mind, others are usually willing to explore, learn, and discover what I have to tell them just as I explored and discovered the unknown in some far away land.

5 followers

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and went to California to get my first bachelor's degree. I am currently living and working as a teacher in China while studying the University of North Dakota's online bachelor of Communications/Journalism program.

Want to start sharing your mind and have your voice heard?

Join our community of awesome contributing writers and start publishing now.

LEARN MORE


ENGAGE IN THE CONVERSATION

What I Learned From People’s Fearful and Ignorant Reactions to My Travel Stories

Before I ever crossed an ocean, I connected with the rest of the world via then-newly-emerged social networking. I started making online friends from all corners of the globe, including countries such as Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

One day, someone I knew well told me I shouldn’t be talking to people from such “dangerous cultures.” I never expected such a remark from her, and it upset me greatly because I felt that she was speaking ill of people I had come to regard as friends. I went on Skype later and lamented this concern to one of these online friends.

“I thought she was better than that!” I said unhappily. “No, no,” my friend replied.” “Don’t say that. Don’t say you thought she was  better than that. Say you thought she knew  better than that.”

As I started to travel, I actually went to some of these places I had only ever experienced via the web, and I came to learn that I would receive similar responses to varying degrees. I would share a story of excitement, adventure and humor from my travels only to be met with a comment like “But that’s dangerous!” or “How awful! Weren’t you scared?”

These comments were usually frustrating because I would tell the story from a positive and interesting angle only to have it shifted to one of concern or chastisement.

This made me feel as though the person wasn’t really paying attention to what I had to say or was trying to twist and contort my experience. It made me feel misunderstood and even ignored. However,  when it came to handling reactions of fear to my travel stories, I’ve learned that sometimes it makes sense to speak up, and other times to let it go.

As my friend so eloquently put it, it really was just a matter of knowledge and not usually a reflection of the person’s character. A simple example would be people asking if I felt safe in China. When someone becomes surprised that I took a walk through the woods after dark, I explain that China has one of the lowest per capita murder rates in the world and violent crime is virtually unheard of. Indeed, even petty theft is an unusual occurrence in the country.

Further proof that it really is a matter of awareness can be seen when I was hunting for my first job as an EFL teacher. When I was offered this position in Northern Iraq, a close friend was horrified at the thought of me accepting it, and told me that I ought to refuse. However, I was puzzled when he was far more open to the idea of me taking a job in Sudan, a country that had also been wracked by violence and civil conflict in recent years. When I asked why he thought Sudan would have been better, his response was telling. “I know people in Sudan and they have said it is fine living there. I don’t know anyone in Iraq.”

People rely on what they know when they form opinions, and that influences the lens through which they view your stories.  

I once described an experience in Turkey to an American friend, where male employees at an old job became upset when I tried to walk home after dark. In fact, one of my male Turkish colleagues insisted that I let him drive me home. After hearing my story, my friend posed the question of whether walking home alone would have been interpreted as sexual promiscuity.

I was taken aback by this suggestion, but I reminded myself this must have been based on preexisting knowledge she had. I said I didn’t think so and that it was probably just a genuine concern for my safety. I illustrated this point by mentioning that my supervisor had been anxious about me walking home alone because he had seen construction workers nearby drinking alcohol and was afraid of how that might affect their behavior towards me. When she heard this, her sincere response was “Oh, well that’s not such a bad thing to say then.”

I’ve had similar conversations with people born and raised in the countries I have visited and people who have never set foot outside the United States. It is an inherent human reaction to fear what you don’t know or understand. But, as in this instance, I have learned not to be afraid of correcting and informing people. Perhaps surprisingly, a lot of people I meet are receptive to receiving new information and adjusting their perceptions accordingly.  

However, there are people who are so entrenched in this mindset of caution and fear that they will find some way of injecting danger or ignorance into almost every other sentence that comes out of your mouth.

When describing my time in Egypt, I mentioned that I wore a headscarf—before I could even finish my sentence the other person said “Yeah, you don’t wanna get caned!” I had to digress from my original point to explain that it is perfectly legal not to wear a headscarf in Egypt. I couldn’t even get through the whole story because I had to continuously stop to correct these kinds of interjections.

Thankfully, such people are few and far between, but I made a point to avoid discussing my travels with that person due to their ignorance. What people like this can’t seem to grasp is what I’ve come to call the “so-what” factor. This is the tolerance and interest in actually learning about other people and cultures that I have developed as a traveler.

I learned to see them for the trivial things they really are. Yes, people in other countries have said bad things about my country. So what? It’s just words. Yes, I’ve gotten my shoes stolen twice while in two different countries. So what? It’s just a pair of shoes. Yes, people have been discourteous to me because I’m a foreigner. So what? For every one person who has treated me poorly, I can count a dozen others who have offered me a helping hand I daresay because  I was foreign and I needed a little extra assistance.

At the end of the day, I’ve learned to think of myself as something of a travel experience to others. I usually go to a new country with a little bit of fear and apprehension in the pit of my stomach. Others may listen to my stories with similar emotions. While some may be unwilling to set foot outside of the proverbial country that is their mind, others are usually willing to explore, learn, and discover what I have to tell them just as I explored and discovered the unknown in some far away land.

Scroll to top

Follow Us on Facebook - Stay Engaged!

Send this to a friend