Someone asked me the other day what I was most excited to learn while I was on my upcoming rotation in Kuwait. I answered that I didn’t know, because if I did I would already be ready for it. I think that’s what makes travel exciting, you can’t expect what will move or change you or what you might learn along the way. You just know it’s coming and you will be different on the other side.
We had already been traveling for over a day when my first “this is different” moment clicked. We boarded the flight from Doha to Kuwait and all the airplane etiquette I was accustom to was not the same as everyone else on the plane. I have experienced the loose suggestion of boarding instructions and herding to line up at the gate, but when we boarded the plane I finally realized we were going somewhere very new. It hit me as I watched the frenzy of musical chairs up and down the aisles. I began to see some of the cultural differences unfold as the majority of people adjusted their seating to accommodate gender. I started to think we would actually be quite delayed due to the re-arrangements, but in that moment the plane began to taxi. I’m actually not sure why they do not try to accommodate these cultural needs in advance, but alas, we were in a moving plane with about half the people still shuffling. It appeared that everyone was in their seats by take off despite little direction but the stewardesses were still attending to various details and the look of surprise at lift off made me feel a little concerned for them. We all arrived safely, however, and completely on time. I think I will continue to remain seated with my seat belt fastened in a timely fashion, but I will certainly be better informed about the flexibility in protocol depending on the region of travel.
I knew the color of my skin and my clothing would look different and I know that my environment will not be the same, but it’s these little things throughout seemingly routine tasks that start to shape a new cultural experience.