Job Prospects During Immigration?

by multilingualmania on July 29, 2011

in Travel

Here’s a story where multilingualism evolved into polylingualism…

American travelers are quite comfortable filling out immigration forms, standing in line, and smiling at the officers manning immigration windows. I don’t mind this process myself, though I’ve had interesting experiences where it seemed I was the randomly elected tourist in the crowd to extend assistance in properly filling out these disembarkation/embarkation forms.

Since most Asian countries did not (for the most part) use Arabic letters, the communication gap was vast. For example, China used characters resembling hieroglyphics to the Westernized eye, as did countries such as Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.

So imagine for a second how a citizen who was comfortable with language characters from say, Bangladesh, having to decipher the characters used in Cambodia. Now picture trying to do this within a set time limit because you didn’t know if your bus or van was going to wait for one passenger while everyone else was already aboard.

Even though English was usually included on the immigration form, it seemed to be ignored by those able to read Arabic letters – especially if English was a second language. So what do we have? We’ve got one home language, trying to traverse the territory of another language, while seeking the help of a random American who spoke neither the language of the tourist or the host country (but he could speak three other separate languages himself!).

I felt close to putting up my shingle, and getting paid to help other foreigners fill out immigration forms. I already looked like a Malaysian (though I’ve been told I look Chinese, Thai, Indonesian, Korean, Singaporean, and Vietnamese – depending on which country I happened to find myself in!).

What was amazing was that each individual, no matter their nationality, could somehow sense I was helping people fill out those immigration forms. I could have been an unscrupulous bystander, telling people to write insulting remarks for the immigration officer to read.

There have been times where I tried to fall in line and wait my turn to clear immigration, but it was mystifying to have one tourist deftly leave and another to take their place, thus continuing the onslaught of unending questions on what information to write where, and how the format should be.

In desperation, I tried to talk faster, though the speed of my broken English brought the complete opposite of what I wanted in the first place – proper communication and instruction on how to fill out the form.

In other countries, especially if coming off of a local commuter bus line, the flow of passengers was more intense than at an airport, because everyone was rushing to catch the same bus once they’ve successfully navigated immigration and customs entry protocols. In these high-flow locations, I tried to keep my mouth shut and my head down, minding my own business.

I think what gives me away is my American passport. Once people sight a passport from the United States, they automatically think I’ll be able to magically help them with their language barrier and provide legal council for their immigration questions before facing the officers at the gates.

I felt fortunate to have the easy ability to fill out forms without insulting officials in the process. I knew where to put my name and passport number. Oh, and if you need help filling out the form, just tap me on the shoulder when you see me, and the others behind you will do the same once you’re done seeking my professional immigration form-filling services. Sounds like a cash cow, doesn’t it?

About the Author: Vincent Dersanga endures the reality of composing sentences which require him to be linguistically vigilant. It is his hope there exists the slightest semblance of mercy to grant his writings a sliver of reading time and alms of thoughtful intent.

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