My "Come to Jesus" Moment: I am a Foreigner

Jeremy Gerstein
March 16, 2020

Not too long ago, I was at the most southern point of the African continent: the Cape of Agulhas. The sun sat high in the sky, the rocks jutted violently out of the sea, the water crashed noisily into the shore. Following the compulsory group picture at the plaque indicating the significance of the location, I walked along the beach looking for shells, rocks, and the like. Not only do these items make great gifts and keepsakes, but they also help satisfy my curiosity about life on different parts of planet Earth. As I wandered along, my gaze buried in the sand, I was startled by the voice of a young girl who had managed to sneak up on me. She introduced herself as Elaine and told me she was from not too far away. When I shook her hand and introduced myself, a look of awe fell over her face. She had never heard an American speak in person before and was amazed by my accent. I nearly interrupted her to correct her: to tell her that she was, in fact, the one with the accent. However, I was able to catch myself from promulgating that all-too-common America-centric perspective and reflected on the experience later in the day.

As I reflected I realized that accents, along with many other traits and characteristics, are relative. As an individual who has grown up in one society, it is easy to view others as foreigners or outsiders; it is easy to view them as weird or abnormal. I had to travel 8,000 miles away from Indianapolis, to the furthest point on the African continent, to realize that I am a foreigner. I sound weird, I eat strange foods, and I play strange sports. This realization has manifested itself on several other occasions. When I asked for “tomato sauce” at an Italian restaurant I was given a cup of ketchup rather than marinara. When I told an Uber driver to drop me off at the traffic light as I pointed he said, “Oh, you mean the robot?” When I was given the responsibility to pick the music during a beach day with a group of friends and they asked, "Is this country music?" What I’ve learned is that everybody is both normal and abnormal. Everybody is a native and a foreigner. Everybody is different, and everybody is the same. It just depends on your perspective.

Jeremy Gerstein

<p>Hi, my name is Jeremy and I am a Midshipman at the United States Naval Academy. Outside of studying engineering and Arabic, I spend most of my time training for ultra-races, hiking in any park nearby, and going out with friends. I love experiencing anything new: food, language, music, etc. Find me in any local market, square, or club trying to figure out how the locals live.</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
United States Naval Academy
Carmel, IN
Engineering - General
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