A Welcoming Smile

The travel world has become an increasingly global one. I myself demonstrated this in the summer of 2015 when on my return trip from Switzerland, I went through two countries, five states and Washington D.C. in a 24-hour span. Anyone can get anywhere in the world in a matter of several hours if they want to.

I can certainly attest to this globalization from my six-year volunteering experience at Washington Dulles International Airport in suburban Washington D.C. While many outside the Washington area may not realize it, Dulles is one of the larger international gateways of the United States. Dulles currently has dozens of airlines that provide direct international access to cities in Europe, Asia, Africa, Canada, and South America. With this sort of reach, Dulles is a major location for U.S arrival and is sometimes the first place many traveling from abroad into the United States see upon arrival.

As a Travelers Aid volunteer, this sense of diversity and welcoming was something I was exposed to right away when I began volunteering at Dulles. This is especially prevalent for volunteers working the international desk, located near customs, the mobile guide position actually inside the customs hall, and the mobile guide positions in the midfield terminals. All posts in some fashion deal with international travelers who sometimes are only traveling to the United States with only the clothes on their back.

Working with Travelers Aid has allowed me to gain a better understanding of culture and diversity that I otherwise would not be able to witness in my everyday life. Much of this understanding has come simply from talking to people who come from all walks of the world and learning about their culture, history, and perspective on life.

Some of these people are passing through Dulles Airport to then continue on to another destination within the United States to reunite with other family members or friends. Some have ultimate destinations in the Washington area hoping to find work or again meet family already here. Others however are coming to the United States alone, first to hopefully send back money to family in Africa, Europe, South America or Asia. Others I encounter are traveling back to their respective homelands who perhaps haven't seen their family in decades.

Many people who I assist at Dulles are usually happy to share their stories. Some however are reluctant and nervous to ask for help in what to them is a foreign land. For example, some come to the United States only with an address of a house or hotel that they will be staying in. They sometimes don't know how or when to get there or really where this place is. They know it will cost money to get there, but not how much. Sometimes my job is to help these people ultimately get to where they need to be whether it is a connecting flight or hotel.

Many of the people who need this help often do not speak English or have a difficult time understanding it. Therefore it can be difficult to explain transit directions complicated enough for a native speaker, to someone who does not understand English or the area.

As a volunteer at an our airport in our nation's capital, I take great pride in welcoming travelers who may be coming to the United States for the first time and giving them a warm welcome to Washington D.C. I hope that my volunteering can give foreign travelers a good idea of what we are like in the Washington D.C. area and hopefully the rest of the United States.