Backpack Project-A Language Barrier

It Helps To Approach People Who Speak English

When we left off in the last installment I had chased down a young man walking across the Washington University campus. He was carrying a backpack and being followed by two women. It was not clear if they were all together until I got closer. I noticed that one of the women was wearing what appeared to be a graduation gown.

As I came alongside the young man I said, “Excuse me.” and handed him the introduction card that I had prepared. Immediately the woman in the graduation gown came up to us and snatched the card from his hand. She read it, looked at him, looked at me and said, “No, No, no.” She then looked at him and said something in a language I can only surmise was from the Far East. I guess she was explaining to him what was happening.

Don’t get me wrong. They were all very polite. It was perfectly understandable at that point. This was a friend or relative of hers from another country who had come to witness her graduation. He did not speak English at all. Now I was 0-2. This wasn’t looking to be an easy project. But I was even more determined to make it work. I thanked them and let them walk on. I stood on that deserted campus green and looked around.

Part of this project, aside from looking into people’s lives through their backpacks, is looking into mine. Not my backpack; my life. You see as a speaker on fear and confidence I am having to confront the very things I speak about all the time. This is something new. This is something different and in ways, this could be something distasteful.

As we move into a more digital world people are becoming more isolated. We can walk through our day with our earbuds in place and not be bothered by another real human voice at all. If that is what we are desiring then having some stranger come up and start asking questions about your backpack can be very annoying. That makes “that backpack guy” an annoying creature and nobody wants to be seen that way.

Those are some of the fears I will have to overcome to see this through. And I don’t even know what “see this through” means. Maybe I should set a minimum number of interviews I will do before I declare this a success or failure. As I let the disappointment of my most recent encounter wash over me, I spotted my next target. And I will tell you more in the next installment.

I want to encourage you to lend your comments and thoughts to these blogs. Don’t let “that backpack guy” hang out there alone. Please let me hear from you.

What’s in your backpack?