Imagine yourself in a place completely outside of your comfort zone, somewhere new and somewhere unrecognizable. Now imagine everyone looking at you with eyes of curiosity and wonder, whispers of questions and pointed fingers all directed in your way.
This was my first experience in El Salvador.
This was my first experience as a minority group.
For the first time in my life, I am that completely unique, foreign body. The traditional roles of a Eurocentric upbringing have been reversed. I am no longer the majority. An aura of enquiring, marveling and curiosity was felt lingering in the air. However, there was never a feeling that I did not belong there. Sometimes I forgot about my skin colour difference and thought the curious looks were because I was wearing shorts (something not common among the locals, especially for a female).
This was until one my students reminded me - a 22-year-old university student asked me why my skin is white.
At first I did not even know how to answer this. I had never been asked that question before, but in my broken Spanish I began to discuss our British heritage and family lineage, as well as geography and Canadian climate (this then lead into a discussion about the cold and snow, but that’s for another time!)
Before answering this question I had to take a minute and think about it. I was not thinking this was something to be offended by; I was focusing more on about the reasons it was asked. This was not an act of discrimination, but rather an act of curiosity. This student had never seen a person with white skin before. In fact, this was also a first for these students.
At that moment, our firsts became unified and we shared this experience together. This first experience as a minority no longer felt that way as we embarked on a learning experience together. Our differences were embraced and explored. Things were taught and things were learned.
My first experience as a minority was not even known as that. Although the stares and the questions, and the curiosity remained it was our first experience as students working together from two different countries and cultures. It was our first experience of sharing. It was our first experience of learning. It was my first time going through a life changing experience.