Where I am from, Louisville, Kentucky, I am not a minority. I have minority friends. I have a minority partner. But in the end I am not a minority. People say that they understand and have empathy with minorities, but when you actually talk to them about this you realize you really do not understand. I do believe I have made great strides in understanding what the minorities in America feel like.
Here in Vietnam I am a minority. 99% of the people do not look like me. They do not speak my language. They do not have a similar culture. They look at me as a novelty many times. I had the great opportunity to go to Central Vietnam and observe a promotional meeting. The meeting was entirely in Vietnamese. Before the meeting started people came up to me and wanted to take photos with me. I graciously agreed. They were all very nice. But in the end they wanted a picture because they do not get people that look like me near them very often. We do the exact same thing in America. It is human nature.
But when it comes to being a minority there is a certain amount of isolation that can be felt, that I did not realize ever existed. When you do not see others that you can identify with can make you feel isolated. Not scared or unhappy, but isolated. People try to empathize. But in reality until you are a minority you never truly understand this concept. I now have a better understanding for GSK as well. When a leader gets on stage or a group of leaders gets on stage and none of them look like you, that would be hard to identify with. It helps so much to have leaders that are diverse so everyone can see themselves getting there.
So I moved to an area called Tay Ho or Westlake. It is a heavy ex-pat community. So now that means 97% of the people do not look like me. The majority of the ex-pats are not American. Australians and the British are the most abundant.
Just because I have felt and sometimes do feel like a minority, that does not mean I am treated with bigotry or bias. That has been the most valuable lesson in this. The Vietnamese are all so kind and nice. They always make an effort. They always smile. I had dinner with two other volunteers last night. Mohamed is an Egyptian living in Saudi Arabia and Sujay is from India. They both say similar things. That the people here are kind and gracious. We are all minorities here and we are all treated the same. The Vietnamese do not look at me as “better” because I am American or Caucasian. They just see each of us as “foreign” and make an effort to share their culture. And Mohamed and Sujay have been kind enough to share their cultures with me as well.
So the lesson is that when you see people that don’t look like you, be kind. When someone has a different religion, be kind. When someone has different customs, be kind. In the end this kindness will lessen that isolation for them. That kindness will help them feel they are less a minority and more family. And this is what I have experience here!