Which Home? Questioning Questions

I’ve had trouble getting through the US immigration counters before. You know, when they take you to the windowless room behind all the counters, and no one explains why to you? The first time was when my fingerprint didn’t read correctly or something in the machine, and I had to “rescan” in the back. The second was when the immigration officer confused my valid visa for another one, and they had to question me about it. But, this winter, I think I’ve had the most memorably irritating time in Texas.

Ah, the Immigration Lines. Some rights reserved by Icars
Ah, the Immigration Lines.
Some rights reserved by Icars

It all started with a series of regular questions, how long are you here for? who are you visiting. Then, they asked, “When are you going home?” It probably didn’t help that I was rushing to make a connecting flight, but that question made me run circles in my head. Lately, my instinct when someone asks me where my home is, I say, New York. I’ve spent almost all of my adult life there, many of my friends are still there, but that answer wouldn’t make sense to an immigration officer. Then, I looked at my Japanese passport that the immigration officer was holding, and wondered if she wanted me to answer when I was going back to Japan. The problem was that I wasn’t scheduled to go back to Japan yet, so I had no answer for that. Then, I thought about my current residence in Hong Kong, and the officer had already seen my work visa for Hong Kong and asked me questions about it. Confused, I responded with, “Which home? Hong Kong? Japan?” The immigration officer looked at me like there was something wrong with me and responded,

“I don’t know. It’s not a hard question. Where is your home?”

Nope, that’s not my house.
Some rights reserved by Neil Smith

Her response irritated me to no end. Maybe it was the way she said it to me, maybe it was the look she gave me, but it was a rough one. The person questioning me was a person who sees and talks to hundreds of people from all over the world, every day, each with a different background, and a different story. How could she assume that a simple question for some was going to be simple for me? I understand that the officer needed to get through as many people as possible, and wanted a quick answer, but by this point, she had already asked me more questions that I have ever been asked in an immigration line. The officer really didn’t care about what my answer was as long as it didn’t raise any red flags, yet she still asked me a question that I was trying to answer honestly. The response I got was being treated like I was missing a few screws.

Reflecting back, it makes me think of my role as a teacher who often asks questions to his students. Now I’m wondering,

When I ask a question:

  • do I get irritated or annoyed when I feel like the question I asked was simple?
  • do I give enough think time for the students to respond?
  • do I allow my feel like it’s okay for them to take their time to formulate a response?
  • am I showing that I care about what the student is saying in response to my question?

Questioning has now become more complicated than I first started…

Some rights reserved by Duncan Hull
Some rights reserved by Duncan Hull

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