Sunday, September 7, 2008

Don't try this at home...

T.A.G - Code Pineapple. It's been a mentally tough day, and I have a cold... but other than that, all is well.

When I was back in Oregon and would tell people about this plan to go to Thailand, the general reaction was something like “Oh how exciting!”, “You’re very brave.”, or “You have such an adventurous personality.” And that kind of thing. I just want to clear that all up right now. I am not brave, and I am not really all that adventurous. On a scale of 1 (ordering the exact same thing every time you go out to dinner) to 10 (being the first person on the moon)… I’m like a 2. Seriously. I’m not brave, or adventurous or particularly exciting. As proven by the two months I was unemployed in Oregon, I’m content, *quite* content to sit around all day watching DVDs and playing computer video games. I just made a decision to *do* a scary, exciting, adventurous thing. Getting on a plane is not that hard. Then it lands and you have to do things like eat & sleep, and you figure those things out.

However, this whole experience of doing the CELTA course ‘in country’ is turning out to be extremely challenging, both emotionally & intellectually. I was expecting (dreading) some of this challenge, but still…it can be overwhelming at times. Intellectually, there’s a lot of information to absorb, and then apply in teaching practice. There are techniques to master and grammatical structures to learn. There’s a lot of prep-work to do before each lesson, and then a lot of feedback & analysis to deal with afterwards. Emotionally, it’s been a roller-coaster ride. There were lessons that I felt completely unprepared for that went extremely well, and then lessons I felt really comfortable with that didn’t go very well at all. I’m spending a lot of time around the same people… so much so that individual quirks become really irritating. I’ve had a lot of fun hanging out with everyone, but at the same time, I feel like I don’t have any ‘real’ friends. I feel like the guys on the course tolerate me at best, and actively dislike me in at least one case. The one person who seems most genuinely interested in talking to me is also the most likely to point out my personality flaws to me. It’s been really tough.

There are times when everything is wonderful, when I think “How amazing is this?” and then there are days when I spend hours playing solitare on my computer ruminating on all the things going wrong. One minute I’ll feel like I’m really going to be a good teacher, that it’s feeling very natural. But then I’ll spend two hours agonizing over what to do for a 2 minute warm up activity. I love working with the students… but I get so nervous before I teach that I want to throw up. And getting a really positive review from my instructor only made me feel more pressured to live up to his expectations. It’s insane.

Then there’s the fact that I almost never know what’s going on. There’s a freedom in that. Knowing that you’re probably doing something wrong, and that you’re probably going to offend someone means you just don’t worry about it. But it can also be humiliating. One of the guys on my course picked a Thai name to use in the class so the students could pronounce it easily. Every time he said his name, students would giggle – he’d ask “Isn’t that a Thai name?” and he’d get the reply that it’s the name of a Thai actor. Just yesterday he found out that it’s an actor who’s most famous for doing a string of condom commercials. So yeah, in an effort to pay respect to the Thai culture, he named himself after the condom man.

Personally I’ve gotten so laid back about just accepting whatever happens, that I often forget to make any kind of attempt at problem solving. There’s a note on the back of my door that says “If you want to clean a room hang a plate in front of the room.” After a few days of leaving a dinner plate outside my door (go ahead and laugh now… it’s fine) only to come home to a room that’s just as dirty as it was when I left – I’d pretty much given up on the idea of having my room cleaned. I’ve been here three weeks and it only just occurred to me to call the front office and *ask* them how to get maid service. Turns out I needed to pay them extra for the service… but it got taken care of that same day. Same with my shower situation. Despite turning the dial all the way to “Hot” I never got anything better than a luke-warm shower. I didn’t want to complain, I figured I’d just get used to it. When I get home from work I’m all hot & sweaty anyway so it wasn’t that much of a problem. But then today I noticed a ‘reset’ button on my shower and instantly… *instantly* I had steaming hot water flowing from the nozzle. Three weeks of “mai bpen lai” about having cold showers every morning when all I had to do was press a button.

Oh, and then there was the Gyoza incident. I went out to lunch with two of the guys and ordered gyoza. The woman made some attempt to communicate something with me and I just clarified that yes, that’s what I wanted. As is customary in Thailand, the boys were served their meals first. I waited patiently, and waited, and waited. The guys were practically done and still no gyoza. I didn’t want to be rude, but I was starving. I caught the waitress’ eye and asked where my gyoza was. This time, she made “no more” motions and I finally got it – they were out of gyoza. D’oh! So I hastily ordered something else and had to scramble to eat before it was time to go to class. In those situations and a myriad of others it’s hard to find that balance between having a good attitude and just being blind.

I wouldn’t say it takes much courage to live abroad – it’s not all that scary – but it does take a certain kind of grit. You’ve got to find a way to deal with your own issues, as well as the issues of a country & culture that’s not your own. It’s not easy, and it’s not for the faint of heart. But for me, at this moment, I think it’s been worth it.



Melody said...

Just remember how much you hated your job here. It was intolerable for you. From your posts, it seems like even your bad days there are better than the way you felt about your situation here. hang in there! You're almost done with the course. Once you have a classroom of your own, you'll relax a lot because there won't be an instructor analyzing every minute of your class.

Batty said...

You have a right to be treated well. There's a certain amount of growing up one does when moving to a foreign country, even if you were an adult before. Asking questions, sticking up for what you want, and making sure you get it are just some of those things. Learning that you can't get along with everybody is another one, as is the fact that making friends takes time. I remember all of this from college, and none of it was easy. Hang in there, though -- you're stronger than you think. Really. Things always look particularly bad when you're sick. They'll get better.

Michael5000 said...

"personality flaws"? G'wan!!!

: )