Experience as an outsider

November 4, 1998


Being an outsider from what is considered the norm is, for most people, undesirable.  While most people want to be different from others, they do not want to be an outsider who stands out as someone who does not know or is unaware of cultural norms and values.

In 1995, a friend and I spent two months in South America.  Most of the time I was in Santiago, Chile, teaching English to first through sixth graders at a school.  I remember the first time my friend and I went to visit the school.

My friend Sam and I had purchased nice felt hats at a tourist market and decided to wear them to the school that first day.  We knew that we stuck out as foreigners but the hats did not help at all..  While the hats may have been in keeping with the traditional Chilean culture, we soon realized hats of that sort were not worn by very many people in the city.  We successfully became the object of many stares as we made our way down the street trailing our host.  When we got back from the school that afternoon we stored our hats for the remainder of the trip. 

On this same trip I was staying in the home of a family in the southern town of San Carlos where my friend, a missionary family and I were visiting a school, some churches and helping with painting.  The family I was staying with taught me much about the difference between the respect and honor I usually have for guests compared to that of the Chileans.

Late one evening my host, Sergio, asked me if I would like anything to drink.  He said they have “agua, jugo, y leche” (water, juice and milk).  So I asked for juice.  Little did I know that the juice I would receive about twenty minutes later would come from dried peaches which Sergio had purchased at the corner store, boiled, and cooled; all after I had asked for some juice.  I was very humbled knowing that in my own home we would have looked in the refrigerator and reported back to our guest, “I’m sorry.  We are out of juice.”  The respect and honor they gave to me as a guest in their home was amazing.  I felt so different from them yet welcomed and embraced as part of the family.

Besides the times I have been outside the United States in different social settings, even here in the U.S. I feel out of place in certain places or at certain times.  On the Oral Roberts University campus the Student Association occasionally hosts various musical groups to perform.  I have been to several of these concerts as a photographer or just to see what is going on.  Possibly due to the musical subculture which I’m not used to and a combination of the lighting and music itself, I often find myself taking on a rather melancholy mindset and observing what is going on around me.  I do not feel apart of what is going on but almost like the proverbial fly on the wall just observing what others are doing and wondering why.  The style and subculture which flocks to these events give me much of the feeling of an outsider.

Also on the ORU campus I have realized that I feel almost like an outsider at the beginning of the semester even greeting my friends.  This feeling lingers until I am able to get into the routine of work and classes.  I feel that I need to have a “place” in which I know I fit before I can be comfortable.  Within a couple of weeks of the semester I’m quite at home and comfortable around others.  I would compare this to feelings probably typical of someone at a new workplace.  They want to be accepted by those around them but they want to have their own place so they know how they fit into the puzzle of their new surroundings.