The Value of Being a Foreigner

3 comments Written on July 17th, 2012 by
Categories: Alumni, General

Ted (BS 2009) and Bethany Rydmark

“One of the most important reasons to travel is to know what it feels like to be a foreigner.” - A. A. Gill

Not until I had been off North American soil for three months did I fully realize how much I missed home. South America was still “America;” I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t expect to feel so out of place, so distant, so foreign. On a daily basis, I found myself in situations where I was completely dependent on local people for the most basic necessities: food, water, transportation, communication. There was no “Spanglish” spoken here.

Thirty-one months after graduating from Multnomah, my wife and I embarked on a one-year backpacking journey around the world. We quit our jobs, mine at a local homeless shelter, hers at a landscape architecture firm, sold our stuff, and with much idealism began our journey in Lima, Peru. Today, I sit in a breezy apartment in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, reflecting on the last six months, bracing for the next half.

From Peru to Lebanon

If there is one thing I wasn’t prepared for, it was being a foreigner in a foreign land. Sure, I’ve been places before—Europe, Mexico, Canada. But these days one can travel to all kinds of places without really having to leave the comfort and familiarity of ‘America.’ When we finally got off the beaten path, in Southern Bolivia for instance, or in Northern Lebanon, or on the undeveloped side of a Cape Verde island, we experienced a different kind of travel. We became at times guests, at times imposters, at times gawking and squawking ignorants, but always at the mercy of the land and people around us.

I now realize it is impossible for me to feel like a foreigner in my own country, or frankly, in most of the Western world. Through no choice of my own, I was born a white, American male, never fully realizing the inherent privileges this fact bestowed. Virtually everything at home is tailored to my taste, spelled in my language, built at my height, contoured to my convenience. Now, thirteen countries later, I am leaning more heavily into this experience called ‘being the foreigner’ because I understand the value these experiences will add to my life at home. It is teaching me in new, wild, unpredictable ways.

Biblical Foreigners

The Bible speaks a lot about foreigners. Through the stories of Ruth, Rahab, the Good Samaritan, and many more, God reminds us to be hospitable and attentive to the foreigners among us. To be honest, I always read His words as if I were the local, the one who belonged, reaching out to the foreigners around me. Now I wonder: can we truly understand the shoes of a foreigner until we’ve been one ourselves? Until we’ve dusted off our travel shoes and walked where we don’t call home? Where we don’t belong? Even Jesus became a foreigner in our land, and made His dwelling among us.

Traveling is changing me in good and dangerous ways; in ways I don’t fully understand. Some have asked us the same questions we’ve asked ourselves: “What will we have to show for our year abroad?” The value isn’t tangible, or even measureable. What we’ll bring home are new eyes and new ears for the city and neighborhood we love, a new way of understanding the foreigners who live among us. It will make us better listeners, better neighbors, and better followers of Jesus.

About the Author

Ted Rydmark earned a Bachelor of Science Degree from Multnomah University in 2009. He loves to see churches and social service agencies working together to help the poor. When not travelling, he and his wife Bethany make their home in Montavilla, Portland. To hear more about their stories and to see pictures of their travels, please visit their website.

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3 comments “The Value of Being a Foreigner”

THANK yOU FOR THE INSIGHT YOU BRING….being a foreigner. Thanks for braving the unknown, being vulnerable to the ups and downs of various situations and willing to share it with us. I wonder IF we will be able to understand foreigners among us thru your eyes.
Love Ya!!!

Fantastic thoughts, Ted. Thank you.