Cross-Cultural Interaction

Finding your starfish

A long time ago, I read a story about a little boy and thousands of lost starfish.

Some sort of tragedy had happened – I don’t remember what it was at this point – and countless starfish had been stranded on the beach. With no way to get back to the water, they were all destined to die within just a few hours.

Many of the locals saw them stranded there. Yet the task of saving them seemed impossibly overwhelming, so instead of helping they simply stood on the shoreline, shaking their heads and commenting on what a shame it was.

Soon, though, a lone figure caught their attention.

A little boy was slowly walking along the beach, carefully picking up each individual starfish and throwing it back into the ocean. One of the onlookers went down to talk to the boy.

“Son,” he said, “you’re wasting your time. You can’t possibly make a difference. The problem is too large.”

The little boy was silent for a minute. Then he bent over and threw another starfish into the ocean. “I made a difference for that one,” he said. “And that one,” as he threw another one into the water. “And that one,” tossing another one to safety.

I often feel like the onlookers in this story. I see the wrongs that are happening in the world. Yet they seem so huge, so insurmountable, that I have trouble knowing where to start. And so many times I end up doing nothing.

Few of us will change the world. Yet we can all changeĀ our world. We can all changeĀ someone’s world.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this summer, as I’ve been juggling my work schedule with being an unofficial host mama to several international students. Interacting with them has opened my eyes to the need all around me. So many people needing help – ESL students who need a tutor, refugees who need help navigating this unfamiliar world, immigrants who need a friend.

The nurturing part of me wants to help them all. Of course, that’s a practical impossibility, and sometimes I get so overwhelmed by the enormity of the need that I simply shut down. The need is so great; how could little old me possibly make a difference?

Like the little boy with the starfish, I’m learning to address the need slowly.

To make a difference in one person’s world, over and over again, rather than letting the needs of the whole world shut me down. This summer, I’ve been making a difference in our three exchange students’ worlds – and they in mine.

It’s been such a joy and privilege. I’m so looking forward to finding my next starfish!


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