Borderless Stories Podcast
Transcribed by Melissa Elaine.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Hi there. Welcome to the Borderless Stories podcast. This podcast is a celebration of intercultural relationships as well as a resource for navigating those relationships whether it’s a marriage a business partnership or a close friendship. If you care deeply about someone from another country or culture then you are in the right place. We celebrate by sharing stories of success and triumph. We support by sharing practical strategies and interviews with experts. I’m your host KC McCormick Çiftçi and I’m so happy that you decided to join us today.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Welcome to our first episode of 2019. Today I’m sharing my interview with Kiona who is… well consider this your language warning in case you’re listening with kiddos I’ll say she’s from the blog How Not To Travel Like A Basic B-word…but yeah if your kids are here you might actually hear the B-word later. So if that’s important to you then maybe put in some headphones. Kiona is someone that I met on Instagram of all places and I’ve learned so so much from her in a very short time. She is an educator at heart and someone I consider the definition of an ally. So I’ve invited her to come talk with us about that aspect of intercultural relationships-about whether it’s your partners culture or the culture of a friend, about truly being an ally and an advocate for people who are in different communities and different groups than you are. Despite some minor technical issues with our sound I think this interview is something that you are really going to enjoy.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Well thank you so, SO much for being here, Kiona. I think this is gonna be like the best possible way to start 2019 for a podcast. Let’s just bring in all the…all the truth all the education, it’s awesome.
Kiona: Thank you so much for bringing me on.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Yeah. Oh my gosh. Seriously. So to start with can you just kind of introduce yourself a little bit for anyone who doesn’t know you?
Kiona: Sure. My name is Kiona and I’m from the Big Island of Hawai’i and I run the website How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Yes you do. And that- can you tell us about your website? The purpose of it and what you do there and all that stuff.
Kiona: The website is…um…it started off as kind of like a joke or a space for me to put all of my travels, and my advice, my experiences to share with my friends and family. But it quickly got shared to people who are not my friends and family and sort of went around the internet and became something larger than I ever thought it would be. And it has since then evolved into a platform to uplift diverse voices. So instead of me talking about a place, I try to find a local or somebody from that place to talk about their own, you know, spaces and give us advice on how they would want tourists to interact [no sound, audio error] doing that for them and I felt that this was really important because I found blogging to be a little bit boring like me talking about my own experiences is very similar to other people with the same privileges. So to hear it from a local’s perspective-and they are the experts on their own places and their own experiences-it just adds such a huge layer that I feel like we don’t get as tourists coming to other people’s countries. At least they’re given the space to tell us about themselves.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Yes absolutely. So when when did you start your website? Like, how quickly? Because it’s grown to quite a thing. Like when did you start this, like how quickly has this taken off?
Kiona: So this has been around for about two and a half years now. Within my first year though I think I had a 10,000 followers on Instagram and about 10,000 people reading the website but now at two years it’s like 330,000 on the website. And then the Instagram interacts with seven hundred thousand people a week.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Wow. Oh my gosh.
Kiona: I mean even though it’s like 23,000 followers like there’s a lot more people that interact with Instagram than actually follow.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Yeah definitely. Wow that’s impressive. OK. Yeah. I love, so I love what you’re saying about the importance of not just sharing your own experience but having other people come and share their experiences. That’s one thing I’ve noticed like going through your Instagram highlights and stuff is you’ve got all these different perspectives. You know, like “Travelling while Native,” “Travelling while African.” That’s something I kind of want to talk to you about. It’s like being an ally because I was thinking like-so what we talk about here is like intercultural relationships. And I feel like there are a lot of things that we could talk about with that but I think one of the most important ones would be, being an ally and how to do that effectively to someone who has a different culture than you. So what’s your most important advice with how to do that effectively?
Kiona: I think the most important thing we can do as allies to pass the mic. So you know our voices aren’t always the most important our opinions aren’t- sometimes we don’t need to even have opinions. Like, silence is great. And to give them a space to talk about themselves or write their own narrative I think is the most important thing you can do with allies.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Absolutely. Totally totally agree with that. I know. I think it’s probably on your account that I’ve seen this where we use the language of like incorrectly by saying like giving a voice to the voiceless and it’s like nobody-nobody’s voiceless right? Everybody’s talking. Everybody’s using their voice. It’s just that you’re not listening. So I think “pass the mic” is a much better thing to say than [unclear audio].
Kiona: Yeah, like isn’t it interesting that within that quote there is a lot of colonialism or a lot of narcissism. That’s an issue in our society today. So by saying like you’re giving a voice to the voiceless- for one, you’re like assuming that you have power to give to someone else and that you’re assuming that they need your help or they don’t have a voice and you are there to save them to give them a voice. And I think that [unclear audio] an inequality not viewing somebody as an equal at that point.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Yeah definitely. That was something I had made a note of-it’s like talking about kind of power dynamic kind of stuff because-so something people sometimes experience like navigating two different cultures like an intercultural marriage. It’s like, like I have experienced this where I feel like I’ve had people kinda be like “Don’t speak English,” you know, like when I’m in Turkey-it’s like don’t speak English. And my gut reaction of course is to feel like I’m being slighted. But thinking about it I was like wait a minute, there’s a power dynamic here. It’s not like if somebody in the US is like speaking Spanish at a grocery store and people are yelling at them and saying don’t speak Spanish-like that’s a completely different thing than what a white woman like me experiences in any other country when someone is like “Don’t speak English,” right. Can you talk about the power dynamic and the how to be more aware of that and maybe less inclined to feel like a victim when, I don’t know, you’re not.
Kiona: Yeah, I think I understand what you’re saying. There are so many instances and nuances where people…like you said it’s all about who holds the power. So in Turkey, probably, white people hold the power there. Or like, English speakers hold a lot of power and then they make more money-they have more capital than those living in Turkey and it would be the same but it’s not the same situation in reverse. Like somebody in Turkey doesn’t hold that power in the United States right. So it’s the people who hold the power have the responsibility want to say like weild it’s like, to actively combat it so that there is equality usually give the [unclear audio] I mention this. But Israelis and Palestinians. So there are lot of anti people in the world. Jewish people have a history of being oppressed and in some instances in today’s world could be considered a people of color. They can also benefit from white supremacy and so within that dynamic you can be both the oppressed and the oppressor. It really just depends on where they hold the power the situation. When a Palestinian is speaking out against Israeli oppression they’re not anti-Semitic because they are experiencing oppression from the Israeli government. However if someone else wants to talk about example a French person wants to talk about Jewish people would be anti-Semitic because I’m not instance a Jewish person isn’t holding power over them. So it’s possible to be both.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: That makes sense and I think what I’m seeing with this is becoming more aware. I think it’s a must. When I initially feel like are telling me not to speak my language,” I’m like Don’t don’t don’t do that you know like don’t go down that road like –
Kiona: How does it feel for you? Like know your initial reaction is like defensive?
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Yeah.
Kiona: Because you’re like why I speak whatever language I want? But like what’s the process for you to like, get past it?
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Yeah. So what I realized when this happened the last time I was kind of like just trying to understand like what I might represent to people like it might be kind of like a fear of the future and of a language being lost you know and so it’s like when my husband and I are talking to each other in English I understand that there could be some there like you guys have kids like what language are they gonna speak? Are they going to be able to communicate with people here in the village?” Or is it kind of access are we going to lose? So, reminding myself of that, you know? I let myself feel like a little bit like “oh man” for a short time and then it’s kind of like “OK get over it, get over yourself. This isn’t about you.” Also like you knew what you signed up for when you I chose to be in this relationship it’s like, c’mon you know what do you expect the world to conform to your expectations? It’s just not how it how it goes.
Kiona: I personally love hearing that and I love hearing the process of and learning and checking yourself because that doesn’t just happen for white people it happens for people of color also. I mean we can be oppressive to each other and not at the same level of white supremacy but we can definitely participate in behavior that are anti-, anti-indigenous. And I think everyone goes through those thought process of like a defensive reaction and then like moving past it through like rational thought and I don’t think that it’s necessarily bad that you have a defensive reaction it’s just what you do with it. So I think it’s really important that we are honest with ourselves and how we initially feel and give ourselves space for that and then moving past it and what we do with it is also equally as important.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Yeah it seems to me like that’s something that can be helpful in calling other people from your group in as well as honest about your feelings because when you’re not honest about your feelings then you very quickly start looking at like other white people or other people from your group and you’re like “Well why don’t you aren’t you as highly evolved as I am?” You know like, “Why don’t you see things the way that I do?” And immediately forgetting who you used to be and how you used to feel like, very recently even sometimes
Kiona: Yeah for sure. I think [unclear audio] it takes a while to even learn that because sometimes you feel not coming from a place of healing you’re coming from a place of trauma so you’re just reactionary. And again that’s part of the process that you do past that and it’s important that we recognize that person is still in their beginning stages.” They’re gonna eventually come out of it and through a whole lot of painful lessons. But everybody goes through it.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Yeah, that’s true. That’s true. That’s good. What would you say about your advice for people who are navigating these and how to kind of walk the line with like appreciating other people’s cultures without appropriating it.
Kiona: Yeah I mean is such a fine line between and cultural appropriation and I kind of hate the conversation even though it’s necessary because there’s really can’t tell until you talk to somebody.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Mmhm.
Kiona: So I feel like in our world we’re so quick to call people out but like we haven’t even had a conversation So it’s like they see a hairstyle or they see a shirt or they see something and they’re like, “You stole that.” But like how do you if it was a gift? Or what if they were invited to wear those things? I mean stealing designs and then creating their own and selling them that it’s not a symbiotic relationship at all. That’s robbery that’s cultural robbery but that’s not the same would say appreciation. Like there are definite lines between an appropriation and – actually, gave like three rules, I I wrote about it but it’s basically like: if you’re invited to partake into it you’re not as your own as long as you give credit to the other person or the other culture; and then also if that culture or from them tell you to stop doing that or to take it off then you take it off. And it’s really that simple to me. Three simple rules that I go by.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: What I’ve noticed in general is I think that you’ve you’ve done a really great job with your corner of the Internet of kind of raising the level of discourse and your expectations for people too, you know. Like what I see it’s like that it’s your, like all those people who are hanging out there for example, the level of kindness and respect that you exude and that you expect from people I mean like I’ve seen standards like “if you’re new here is kind of like how behave in terms of like introducing yourself to people you start trying to educate them about things” or can you talk about that a little bit? How did that come are your and have you seen an effect from that?
Kiona: So I started realizing that it was taking a mental toll on me to interact with like 500,000 people a week. And a lot of those people I didn’t know and I was repeatedly having to defend myself because these people would happen upon my Instagram and then like feel the privilege of shouting out their opinions or writing to me and not even seeing the effects of what they’re leaving, like what they’re dumping on me. Like I would have days where I wouldn’t get out of bed or I would cry or I would feel really upset but would anybody know that? No like it’s a screen. But that’s why we don’t do those things in real life because you can literally see the pain that you leave onto somebody and with a screen or on Instagram it’s so easy you can drop something and never see the pain that you cause on the other side. So for me [unclear audio] reminding people of why we don’t do these things in real life and why we should take those real life behaviors and apply them online. So dropping your opinion to a stranger on the street would never fly. So you know that’s why you should introduce yourself and establish some common ground and create a friendship. And that’s the purpose of social media is to be social and it doesn’t have to be negative. At the same time like correction- conflict is medicine and you can heal through conflict. But like we can’t heal if our first interaction with somebody is out of correction and oftentimes it’s not going to land how you want it to land. I’m not going to take advice from somebody I don’t know or trust. So establishing trust is important, establishing relationships are important in any way that creates a more fulfilling life and dialogue when you can be friends with somebody and then grow together in the spaces that you are blind. So my rules are just there most importantly to protect myself and to hopefully encourage other people to protect themselves. And I’ve gotten so much great feedback about the [unclear audio] but never really applied, or didn’t know, like didn’t have the vocabulary to express why they needed them or what they’d like to see, and so I would say it’s like one of my better accomplishments. With creating like guidelines just for human interactions so that we can all learn and educate together in a safe way. It doesn’t mean that it’s not gonna be painful or uncomfortable but it will be safe.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Yeah I know it does that’s important. I mean cause when I’ve looked at some of the content that you’ve shared, you know I think when you start talking about things like colonialism and things that start to push people’s buttons, I can’t even imagine the kind of feedback that you’re getting from people. Because I mean like you can get negative feedback for like literally anything you put out there on the Internet. So when you really start like getting into the tough stuff, you know I would look at that and kind of be like, “How do you keep doing it?” you know because I think I’d be afraid to check my messages. I think I’d be like I don’t even want to know what people are saying because the Internet’s a scary place and trolls are real. But you’ve seen you said yes. We didn’t hear that but I’m just gonna say it for you- you said yes, I saw you mouth it. So you’ve seen an improvement. Do you feel like it’s safe for you to see, like ok so what are people saying about the latest thing that I’ve shared, is it OK?
Kiona: Yeah. I feel like it has greatly enhanced my online experience. I also did it because I use my block tool pretty liberally. Like I have probably 3000 to 4000 people blocked just because of their like inhumane interaction. And to me my mental health is way more important than someone’s opinion or someone’s voice or someone’s feeling like they need to occupy space. And especially if you know the type of person I am- I’m super willing to offer space. So if you have something to say or a perspective or- I’m not- you don’t even need to agree with me all the time, I’m like super open to discussion, but there is a way in which I expect to be interacted with. And if you don’t follow that then I immediately block. But I ran into an issue because I ended up blocking somebody who then said I was tone policing and blocking somebody of the community that I was trying to stick up for. But I wasn’t blocking them because of what they said. I blocked them because they’re being a bitch. Like they were just coming at me in a totally inappropriate way, that I was like yeah I really just don’t have time for this. Like I would never put up with anybody talking to me like this. So why would I do that from a stranger on the internet? Regardless of what you are identifying as. And I realized then that I needed to clarify publicly why the block tool is being used and the reasons why somebody would not- it’s not silencing or tone policing. It’s just checking you on how you’re going to interact with any human. That was an important lesson for me.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Well it’s like- that’s good to clarify that because you have so much valuable content and educational material that’s coming out like all the time and if you’re not able to like have human interactions with with the people that you’re interacting with, then I can imagine you would continue- you’d be able to continue doing that for long because of the toll it takes on your own mental health and well-being.
Kiona: Yeah totally unsustainable. If you don’t have boundaries for yourself.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Yes. Oh yeah that’s a thing I like to talk about here too. A lot of boundaries like with people in your life and I mean there’s only so many of them and then when you get into people on the Internet it’s like yeah even more so. I would say.
Kiona: You can’t choose your family, or your husband’s family or whatever and you have to work those boundaries out. But with strangers on the Internet you don’t [cut out audio] liberty and freedom to not opt out.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Right.
Kiona: So people should use that liberally and I don’t think that we should be shamed for that.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: No, no I think that it makes a lot of sense. So one thing I really respect about how you do what you do is it feels like fearless. It feels like you just like go into conversations about like- you’ll get into anything. Like you’ll be like All right well I have- someone reached out to me to share their perspective from traveling as a member of their community and this part of the world. And you’re like yeah, here, like let’s go for it. Let’s talk about this. What do you guys think about this and you have this whole series of white people ask questions and then you let the community kind of respond like, “Is there an acceptable way to have a dreamcatcher?” or these different kinds of things. How how do you do this? Are you just- are you just fearless? Because I look at that, and I’m like- I tend to be very careful of like “Ooh, I don’t want to offend, I don’t want to offend, I want to offend.” And I’m like- I think there might be things that you can miss out on when you’re being very very careful not to offend anyone.
Kiona: Yeah I would say I started off fearless. I started off not really giving, like any fucks. I just wanted to be myself- like I was just presenting how I was. And it wasn’t for anyone it wasn’t for a specific purpose. It was just for me. And over time it’s changed- like this platform is less for me more for everyone else. And me too. But it just less me-centered. I’m totally OK with that. I love that. But now that it’s not just me and I’m reflecting a lot of other people’s perspectives, and a lot of times I’m associated with those people I do have fear because then I am responsible for how I come off or what I say and the associations that it puts on to other people [unclear audio] stories with me, or their questions, or who have supported me and I feel like I don’t want to let them down or I don’t want to do anything embarrassing or like out of place. And I make mistakes like I’m a human I’m also growing and learning. So I try to be really transparent about that. But ever since I started introducing other people to the website and it being a representation of them and their struggles and their transparency and vulnerability, I definitely have fear- I have more anxiety now than I did when I first started. But that’s good that it comes off as fearless. But I definitely do think about things. Sometimes I release a post or I’ll release an Instagram caption and I just have like- I’ll just wake up in sweats cause I’m like, “I wonder how it’s gonna be received…I wonder if I hurt anybody feelings…” Especially not just anybody’s feelings, the people from the community feelings- like that’s the part that matters to me the most. So if I’m like publishing on Filipino people, it would break my heart if I hurt Filipino people in that process.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Yeah it makes so much sense then when you talk about the importance of having someone from the community sharing as opposed to doing it yourself. I don’t know if there’s a way, like a truly graceful way to share as an outsider about a community without- I don’t know without like pushing buttons in just the totally wrong way, you know.
Kiona: It definitely is difficult. I have come up- I have butted up against that. And that I share- I traveled through Mexico and Central America a lot and I present a lot of history on Mexico and Central America and I don’t always have, like- well everything that I say is usually taken from a local perspective and I usually give credit to that person. But it is my voice talking, or my words. And I think that it can be very difficult to ingest where people who are of that descent but don’t know that history. So if you’re [unclear audio, Mexican?] and have never been to Mexico and didn’t know that history before, it’s weird coming out of a mouth of somebody who’s not from- who’s not Mexican. But then I also put myself in their shoes and that like- I’m half Korean and I’ve never been to Korea. I don’t speak Korean. And lots of white people have written me, or expats who live in Korea, or even black people who teach in Korea. They tell me about my own cultures and customs that I’m supposed to know but I don’t because I’m not attached. I’m like a generation removed from that. So, to me I love hearing about it. I don’t really feel slighted or you know- I love that people love it so much that they’re excited to tell me about it and I don’t really take it as an offense but I think that also has a lot to do with my own healing. Like I took the time to heal or resolve that part of my identity and like you know that’s just not something that I that I identify with even though that’s like how I present. So I’m OK with it. But if you’re not OK with it and if you’re still sad about it or still struggling with it then like yeah I can see how that it can be jarring or upsetting.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Yeah yeah definitely. So maybe I can ask you about this a little bit because I’ve- so I’ve mostly talked with people on here about relationships, like current relationships. And you shared like little bits and pieces about like relationships that you have been in and I’ve been careful not to talk to anyone about- I don’t know I haven’t been careful about it- I just haven’t talked to anyone about a past relationship because I am nervous that people would come on the podcast and be like “well I’m just gonna make generalizations about my exes culture because like I dated one person so therefore I can say that they’re all terrible people” you know? I trust you though I’m like- can you talk a little bit about what you’ve learned from dating different cultures?
Kiona: Yeah. I’ve learned that having sex with somebody doesn’t transfer culture but it is a pretty good way to get close to it *laughs*. I mean I learned an entire language for love- to be able to speak on a deeper level with the person I was dating. And to me that was a huge gift because that’s the gift that keeps on giving. Now that I can speak Spanish fluently, like I’ve made so many connections from that. But I am not Cuban and I can only understand Cuba so much. But like I cannot take the place of a Cuban woman- like she has her own space. And just because I have had sex with a Cuban for so many years or whatever and been to Cuba a million times it doesn’t override the experience of a Cuban woman because it’s not who I am. And I would say like the same for [cuts out] like I find myself getting very like engrossed into the cultures that I date in, I just want to learn so much and I’m so fascinated and obviously like there is a chance that you could have children of this culture. So I try to be as informed as I can just in case like, I end up having kids that I’m going to- I would love for them to be close to their other half. And so like when I was dating my Haitian boyfriend I tried to learn everything I possibly could about Haiti, but I learned really quickly that just because I knew a lot about Haiti or I had, you know, visited Haiti a million times and was dating a Haitian, I don’t have a space to talk about Haiti and I have eliminated any sort of opinions about Haiti. Like I won’t even like write about it because it’s not my space. It’s not my voice and I don’t want to portray Haiti from my perspective. I feel like other Haitian women need that space. And it’s such a delicate thing when like the media has like torn that country apart and I don’t want to participate in it so I’ll leave space empty- like there are just sometimes where like silence is just better. I think by me being silent is me showing respect to the culture that I partook in via dating. But I would say I learned the most about cultures through dating because you are invited into people’s homes. We do holidays, we do festivals, you eat traditional food, they tell you about their lives. You hear stories from Grandmas and Grandpas and you see pictures from back in the day and that is just not something that you would ever get just visiting or touring a country.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Absolutely and you can learn how someone else- how that person learned about the world. That’s something we’ve been talking about a lot lately is like what we all learn in our history books, you know. Like how history is taught to like, third graders because that’s really eye opening too. Or meeting like kids in the family kind of thing. What are they learning about now in terms of the world and, you know, who the heroes of the story are because it is so, so different wherever you are.
Kiona: Yeah, telling this story, and what languages they had access to. I always tell people there’s never one perspective, there’s never one side of history. And I think people with history degrees, or anthropology degrees for that matter, or even architectural degrees- it’s all based off of interpretation and based off of perspective. And it’s really important that we understand that there’s 500,000,000 ways you could slice it, and perspectives and there’s not just one way to tell history. And all of them need to be acknowledged.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Going off of that, with the relationship stuff- what advice would you give to someone who’s in their first dating relationship/romantic relationship with someone from another country, another culture? What do you think is the most important thing to do, to be aware of?
Kiona: That’s such an important question. I think the number one thing I learned was by understanding someone’s culture you understand where they’re coming from, or like you said, how they learned about the world, and how they deal with conflict, and what even is conflict to them. So like, conflict to me is not the same as conflict to them. Like I dated this Austrian guy for 5 seconds, but, even in those 5 seconds I realized that his silence wasn’t out of anything ill. That’s just how he was- he was just silent. And he just assumed that I knew that he cared, or that he felt love, or he wanted to hang out, or whatever. It wasn’t like- and I took it as, he’s shutting me out, he doesn’t want to talk to me, he doesn’t want to see me. But after understanding- well my dad is Austrian. So when I asked him “Why is this man not talking to me? Like I don’t understand?” He had to explain some cultural things that I wasn’t aware of. He’s like, “This is just how we are, and it doesnt mean…this does not equate this. And why don’t you just ask him?” And so I asked him, I was like, “Do you want me to come to this thing? Or- you’ve been kind of silent…” And he was like, “Yeah, of course, I thought you would know that you were obviously invited.” And so I feel like that could have been a huge fight because I didn’t know and what I viewed as conflict wasn’t conflict to him. And so maybe Americans just talk a lot and we communicate a lot and that doens’t always transfer to other cultures. So I mean, that’s just one example of understanding that what their culture is and what conflict is to them is not always gonna be the same as yours. And it has helped me a lot- just my overall communication with people.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Definitely.
Kiona: What about you? I’m kind of interested to see what you have learned?
KC McCormick Çiftçi: I think it’s communication, definitely. And what we’ve noted with, like communication, understanding a partner who is from a different culture- you have to understand yourself first. And when conflict comes up about something related to culture, you know like gender roles or just- I don’t know there’s so many things. If you don’t first try to understand why you have the feelings and the expectations and the thoughts that you do, then how are you going to approach that in conversation with your partner? When you’re just like, “I’m just mad because you’re wrong.” Well why do I think you’re wrong? What’s my- what the- I like the illustration of the iceberg of culture. Like all the things that are under the surface that you can’t see that are so much more massive and significant than the things above the surface that you can see. Like if you can’t dive down there and explore that a little bit then it’s gonna be really hard.
Kiona: Yeah. I think that’s really important- everything that you said. Like the cultural iceberg, that’s so huge. Because I don’t think that you realize that how your mind operates in so based in culture and the roles that you’ve assumed or that have been assigned to you. And I also feel like I’ve learned that if you’re not communicating in this language that you were born with, a lot [unclear audio] can happen. So when I was learning Spanish, and my Cuban boyfriend was talking to me, I was overwhelmed a lot because of the way- the words he was using were SO intense and flowery and full of things like romance and passion. I was like, “Yo, I just met you, like dang!” But I just realized that that’s how the language is built. So like, the language is built [cuts out] that. It might reflect the intensity but English just doesn’t have space for all of those really intense emotions. So because Spanish is built like that, it allowed for extra intenstiy that I wasn’t used to. And so it was the same in reverse. When I speak Spanish- he says that I’m really cold. Because I was literally translating an English sentence into Spanish, which isn’t as flowery or romantic or what he wanted to hear. And it just made me realize that language is such a huge tool that can make or break a relationship. And just understanding the differences between languages is really important for communication.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Yes, definitely.
Kiona: It was funny because I went from the Cuban guy who was so flowery and romantic with his words, and I was so used to that for, like, 2 years. And then I started dating this Austrian guy- and he kept introducing me as his friend! In English. He’s like, “Oh, this is my friend, this is my friend.” And I was like, “What are you talking about? Like, I met your family, you met my family. Like I’m not just your friend.” And then I asked my friend who is also Austrian and she was like, “Oh, girlfriend and friend are the same in German.” And I was like, “Oh, I didn’t know that!” I had no idea. So those are like those small things in language where it doesn’t quite translate the same. And it’s just important to know that.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Yeah, it’s like a potential, you know, source for conflict there when you’re like, “Hey, wait a minute- I thought I was, like more important than that and you’re just calling me your friend. Like, whatever man!” But yeah, isn’t that interesting that there’s no word for girlfriend?
Kiona: Yeah, and she, my friend [cuts out] Peruvian guy and she’s Austrian. She went- she was like, “That’s really interesting that you point that out because my boyfriend says the same thing- that I’m super cold.” And so we went through a list of Spanish words of endearment, and German words of endearment, and there were like two for German and like 30 for Spanish. And it’s just super interesting how language is so huge- like people can feel really cold or left out because you just don’t have the tool or the vocabulary to express yourself.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Yeah, so true. So- you’re so full of good advice! I like this. This is good. So, one thing I’ll say: I would give your- the resources you create a lot of credit of, like a big big chunch of the education I’ve gotten in 2018. Just in terms of becoming more aware of privilege in general. You know, like initially I would say we become aware of where we lack privilege and where we feel the need to educate people like, “Well hey, you don’t understand this thing because you’re not a woman,” for example. But then also becoming aware of the places where we do have privilege, and then trying to help raise awareness about that too. So it’s like- I find myself now when I talk about male privilege to someone then I feel the need to point out that while there are things that are lacking for me, as a white woman, it would be worse if I were a woman of color. And a lot of “dot dot dots,” a lot of different things where I would say that it could be worse. So can you talk about that a little bit? Just in general about how to become more aware, how to use your privilege for good, how to include others in the conversations that you’re already having?
Kiona: Yeah. I think first of all, acknowledging privilege is hugely empowering. Not only to other people but to yourself. So to me, I feel more [unclear] because I’m half white. So I feel empowered to talk about white privilege because it’s something that I- even though I’m not white passing, like I present as Asian- I do benefit from some sort of white supremacy via my dad. Or even being half Asian and having European standards of beauty. Or being skinny, or having straight hair- those are all privileges. And because I have those things I feel empowered to speak out against it and how people use it as a tool of oppression. Because I never want to be a tool to oppress other people. And so I think it’s really important, one- for you to recognize your own privilege, and it’s importnat for others also, but I’m thinking- it’s really empowering for me to own all of my privilege. And then, once you own your privilege you’re able to have a platform to speak on because you’ve done the work of understanding where you fit and society operates on the backs of other people, and what you can do to give up the privilege, or pass the privilege, or use your privilege, or leverage your privilege to uplift others so that there’s equality. And I always tell people who come from a place of abundance: there’s enough money for everyone, there’s enough power for everyone, there’s enough space for everyone. So it’s not about- like scarcity mentality is really dangerous for everyone because then we’re fighting for spaces. And then we’re silencing, we’re oppressing, and that’s just the opposite of what you want to do. I just think owning your privilege is really important so that you can then defer for the benefit of humanity.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Totally.
Kiona: I don’t know if that answered your question.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: No, it did. That makes sense because it’s something that you might want to like, be inclined to just feel guilty about and feel bad about. But you can use it for good. And if you’re not aware of it in the first place, or pretending something doesn’t even exist doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Kiona: Or just because you don’t experience it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. So like, when somebody tells you something, believe them. Women should know this. I mean how many times do women get silenced because they’re like, “Oh he didn’t really do that,” or “It doesn’t really exist,” or “You’re just making it up.” [unclear audio] understand racism because I’m like, literally you experience it with the patriarchy. So, I mean, I understand that the initial reaction to be defensive, but empowering one that you benefit from privilege, and two to pass it on or to use it to uplift others because we’re in such an abundant so much for everyone. It doesn’t- like by lifting someone up you’re not putting yourself down.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: No. No way. That’s an excellent point. Well, thank you so much for this. This has been, like really educational. I think it’s really great. And I will be sure to link- the best way to connect with you would be Instagram? Right? And your website- your blog. So, I will put those in the show notes for sure. So, thank you, Kiona.
Kiona: I’m so happy we got to do this. And I’m really looking forward to it coming out.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: I think this interview with you is just the perfect way to kick off 2019. And I’m really excited about it. I’m excited for the people who are going to come on and talk about integration, and things beyond just cultural differences. Which are important and significant, but there’s a lot of really important conversations that need to happen.
Kiona: Yeah, I mean I was only able to talk about dating but so many of my friends- like you- end up marrying their long distance love. And that is a whole separate ball game.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: It is.
Kiona: Of like, integrating families; going through the process; financial struggles.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Yeah.
Kiona: It really makes me question, like, what are you doing this for? Is it worth it? And like- I mean even like just being forced to choose one culture to, like, dominate- which, you always do have to choose. So- and like one person is always making more of a sacrifice than the other.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Yeah.
Kiona: Yeah, I totally recognize that and I [cuts out] struggles that come with it so I totally think that it’s really important to talk about and I don’t think enough people do talk about it. Because it’s happening at such a high rate. I feel like more people are getting married to their long distance people and partners than ever before.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: That’s true. And- so my inspiration was not being able to find resources when we were figuring out immigration and that kind of stuff. And even prior to that, when we were just sort of like, “are we doing this? Like is this for real?” There was just a lack of the community that I wanted, that I felt like I needed. So I’m like, alright well let’s talk about this stuff more and let’s figure out how to create it myself.
Kiona: Totally. And I feel like also with marriage and- especially marrying people from countries that are “banned” or- I don’t know how to put it but countries that aren’t necessarily viewed in favor in our Global North mentality, people always question your marriage unfairly. Where they’re like, “well maybe he’s just doing this for that,” or “maybe she’s just liking you for this” and like, they have no idea the trials and tribulations that go into a decision like this, that isn’t just easy. And I feel like it’s unfair. Just hearing my friends stories who ended up marrying their Cuban boyfriend or their Mexican boyfriends and like moving to the Mexico, do you think he really loves you or just doing it for x, y, z, and it just makes me kind of sick. Like why does it always have to be about that?
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Yeah, it’s fascinating. And I think, like 90-day-fiance, like that whole thing, that the stuff that we put out there with that…so like they tweeted at me when we were engaged and they were like, “Do you want to apply to be on our show?” And I was like- I hadn’t watched it at that point so I watched one episode, because I texted a friend and was like, “You told me about this show, like we should- they just tweeted me.” And she was like, “Yeah, you need to watch it. Because they want to make you look like a crazy person.” I was like, “Mmmkay. Let me watch it.” I go so, like offended when it’s like “Oh you’ve got 90 days to decide if you want to get married or leave the country.” And I’m like, that’s such bullshit! Like, you decided when you began this application process. Like that ship has sailed!
Kiona: Yeah, for sure. I also feel like sometimes people do get married for- not necessarily for papers but because their relationship is gonna have to end if they don’t get married. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t love that person. It just means that you speed up the process. But I feel like even most people get like heavily judged. Like one of my friends, she was dating this guy for year and it was kind of like, well are we going to break up? Are you going back to S. Africa? So they ended up getting married and they’re super happy and who knows if it would have happened later? But it didn’t, it happened now, and they’re fine. And I don’t think that it’s like- I don’t know, it’s always weird to be like, oh he married her for whatever. And I’m like, no! Maybe they just really liked each other. You know? I don’t know.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: No, totally! It’s like the- it’s a practical consideration.
Kiona: Yeah! People act like marriages aren’t contracts anyway.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Right.
Kiona: Like, I don’t know- okay, they get that added benefit, but like, on a lot of marriages you get added benefits. [unclear audio] to the conversation. I don’t know, I can’t explain it but-
KC McCormick Çiftçi: No, I totally get it though. I’ve seen like two Americans get married for better health insurance and stuff like that, so-
Kiona: Exactly. Pay less bills, or I don’t know, like you can have sex now.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Right.
Kiona: [unclear audio] religious. So I don’t understand why those aren’t taboo.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Yeah, no I think it’s a good point. It’s a really good point. Both from you yourself and then from a lot of people you’ve featured work from and stuff I’m like this- it’s been like a very sharp increase in like my learning. And, thanks.
Kiona: That’s awesome! That makes me [unclear audio].
KC McCormick Çiftçi: Well you’re doing a great thing. So I’m glad that you created those- the boundaries and things. I hope you can do it for a very long time. Because it’s really important, it’s really necessary.
Kiona: Thank you so much.
KC McCormick Çiftçi: [Outro music] Thanks so much for joining us today. We put out new episodes every week, so make sure you subscribe using the podcast service of your choice and never miss and episode. If you’re feeling really ambitious, screenshot this and share on Instagram! You can find us on there @borderlessstoriespodcast. I also want to give a shout out to Lindsay and Nuni Müller for our awesome intro music that they wrote and recorded just for us. You can find them on Instagram too @lindsaycmuller. Thanks for listening. Until next time, we wish you smooth sailing.