Icebreaker speech: "I'm a person, too!"
Good morning fellow toastmasters and welcome guests. Is anyone here a giraffe? A robot? A person? Aha! My name is Kristin and I'm a person, too.
I had a crazy childhood. I had no control over my life, and because I was a strange kid, for a few years I had no friends, either. I felt like a piece of debris from a boat crash being tossed around in rough ocean waves, and I shut down. I walked through life like a zombie. The thing that woke me up was my best friend telling me, "Kristin, you're a person, too!" Okay, that's not exactly what she said but it's what she meant.
Even as a child tossed around in an unstable and scary life, I was a person with feelings and needs, opinions and ambitions. My life was not completely under my control but I had choices. I took control of the things I could change and my life got better. I gained self esteem. I gained too much self esteem.
In learning that I was a person, I forgot that everyone else was a person, too. When I came to Korea, it was really blown out of proportion and warped into paranoia.
Many of you will know what I mean when I say that being a foreigner anywhere is like being a celebrity and a dancing street monkey at the same time, and that can mess with your head. I recently discovered that I have bipolar disorder, which makes me a little extra crazy here in Korea.
One day I feel better than human, I am the pinnacle of evolution, what all the Koreans around me wish to be. I speak English fluently, and have perfect Western features, and I am suddenly an expert on the rest of the world. People stare in admiration as I walk by.
One day I feel less than human, placed on this earth soley for the entertainment of Koreans and no different from the next white person. People stare at the circus freak as it walks by. I'm surprised nobody has poked me with a stick to see if I'm real yet.
And I hate everyone for that. I hate them when they praise me because they have no integrity. I hate them when they look down on me because they're insensitive. I hate them because I forget that they're people because they don't treat me like a person.
After three years, I still battle with that every day. I know in my head that I'm no better or worse than anyone else and Korean people are not so simple, but it takes a lot to convince my heart. This is the part of my life where I'm learning to say, "you're a person, too".
I work hard to become fluent in Korean because I want to communicate person to person. Language is a tool, not an indication of worthiness as a human being, and I don't want my relationships to be defined by English fluency. I understand that to many Koreans this makes me an anomaly, something completely unique in their universe. I just wish they wouldn't treat me like I'm from another universe.
The idea that foreigners are just people is gaining popularity, although unfortunately there are still many foreigners here who don't think of Koreans as people. When people feel like others view them as people, they feel that their lives are meaningful. People who feel their lives are meaningful lead more meaningful lives. And all of this can be influenced by one person.
Let me illustrate this with an extraordinary event from a few months ago.
I was on a train to Ulsan when a guy in his military uniform sat next to me. I was texting in Korean and snacking on some crackers. After a while, he said to me very casually in Korean, "I'm on my way home but I don't have a phone. Can I borrow yours to call my mom?" I replied that of course he could use my phone. After he finished his call, he gave my phone back and thanked me politely. I offered him some crackers, and he thanked me again and ate one. When he stood a while later to leave the train, I looked up at him and said, "thank you for not saying that my Korean is really good". He smiled and left. That was it.
In that simple everyday moment, I felt profoundly that I was a person, too, because I don't have the privilege of simple, everyday moments here in Korea. He made me feel like a person. Nothing more. Nothing less.
And I imagine a scenario in which he says to his mother, "I sat next to a white girl and it wasn't weird at all- she treated me like I'm a person, too!"
Next time you feel helpless, foreign, god-like, or trash-like, remember that no matter what life sends your way you are a person too and you have a right to feel and do whatever you want as long as it doesn't take away from someone else's humanity. Just as one person's behavior toward you can influence your self-perception, your behavior toward others makes more of an impact than you might think.
Like I said, I'm still struggling with this and I make a lot of mistakes, so if I say or do something that hurts you, please look me in the eye and remind me, "Hey! I'm a person, too."