A wise kid once said, “There is so much more things that we don’t know, but there is even more things that we don’t know we don’t know.” Confusing? I know! That is how I feel as I am finally processing my six weeks of studying abroad in Italy. Looking back, I thought I had finished studying abroad when I boarded my plane back to the United States. However, I was in for a surprise.
During my 13-hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean, I sat next to a young French family. The father looked like he was in his early thirties. Sitting in between him and his wife was their young daughter who seemed to be about five years old. As I sat down, the father smiled at me. He asked me “English?” I replied, “Yes, I speak English.” In return, he said “French.” Then, he pointed to the TV screen in front of his seat and held up two fingers. At first, I did not understand, and I replied with a smile and nod. As I settled down I realized that he was pointing to the “languages” button. The only language options on the TV screen were English and Spanish. He did not know either of these languages, and therefore he could not navigate the TV screen. I was stunned.
I never knew I had this generalization in my head. To be honest, it hurts my pride to learn that I held onto this unconscious stereotype: “All White people speak English.” Maybe, it was because the only non-English speakers I had met in my life were of non-European descent. Maybe, it was because I thought most young people knew English in the developed world. Maybe, it was because I am Indian, and English is spoken by many people in India. So, there I was sitting and thinking about how I considered myself as a person who does not put people into boxes. Yet, I had boxes in my mind that I did not even know existed.