After spending the last hour or so organizing our Christmas presents for loved ones back home, it’s time to sit down and visit my good old neglected blog. I’ve been wanting to write all week, but I always try to write when I’m feeling positive. Unfortunately, I haven’t been feeling too positive as of late. But thinking about it today, I realized that my blog is suppose to be story about Adventure and Growth. And maybe some of my readers would like to hear about the bumps we’ve had during our first 3 months in Guiyang.
Culture shock can be rough. According to the text books, the worst stage is when the honeymoon is over, usually around the 3rd month. Things aren’t exciting anymore, and although your routine keeps you sane, you sort of resent the routine because it means the adventure is over (well, on the surface anyway). Around month three, you begin to notice the little things that annoy you about the new culture you find yourself in.
Aside from the small annoyances I’ve been feeling, I’ve been missing certain things from home too. Some days I just want to hop on a plane and go hug my nieces. Some days I want to close my eyes and wake up with Hobbes wrapped around my head. I miss his purr. Most days though, it’s the little things I miss. A comfortable place to read, a soft bed with soft sheets, good hairspray…
What’s made my last month difficult though, isn’t the culture shock or home sickness. These are things I expected. I knew that I ‘d get sick of hearing people spit. I knew that the beds were hard, and I cherished my last nights in Canada accordingly. I even knew that Skype could never replace a hug from Ellie, or seeing Addyson crawl towards me the first time. What’s made it difficult is the amount of negativity I’m surrounded by at work.
The school where I work has a lot of great things going for it. I work with some REALLY awesome people. The visa process was also done properly and the owner here takes great pride in her 100% legit team of teachers. Last month, 19 Lao Wei were deported for having the wrong visas in Guiyang, so to work for a company where those legalities are taken seriously is a HUGE win for any teacher.
But Z Visas and great coworkers aren’t always enough. When your work atmosphere is a negative one, it can be hard to overcome that negativity, no matter how hard you try. When you are overseas, missing your nieces and worrying about a friend’s health, that negativity is magnified a hundred fold. When you do your very best, coming in early to make sure the Halloween party is a success and staying late so that each of your students’ parents feel heard, you expect a certain degree of gratitude from your boss. But in China, that’s not how things are always run.
China is all about ‘saving face’. When I got a flat tire on the scooter, and the thing fell over as I tried to get it to a fence where I could lock it up, nobody helped me. This wasn’t because they were mean people. This was because they didn’t want me to ‘lose face’. Similarly, tipping isn’t a norm in China. To tip a waitress implies that the owner of the restaurant doesn’t pay him/her enough. This makes the owner ‘lose face’. This is also why verbal appreciation doesn’t come naturally to many people in China. Your paycheck is the ‘thank you’ you receive for doing your job. Anything more than that is to imply that you NEED your staff, which means you aren’t in control of your business. This makes the owner lose face. I think a lot of the negativity where I work is due to that culture norm.
But there’s more to it than just that. If I simply not being thanked for going above and beyond, I wouldn’t be struggling like I am. I work for a Chinese woman. It’s harder for women to ‘make it’ here, in the business world. The culture is very sexist and women here are basically dolls; they wear high heals and are always dressed to the nines. A teacher who used to work at the school summed up China with the 3 Hs: Honks, Horks and Heels. The men in China are a whole different story though. There is a very clear difference in expectations where the sexes are concerned. Women are dolls. Period. They aren’t suppose to be much more than that…
So for my boss to have made it to where she has, running a VERY successful English School, I know that she’s had to work HARD! I respect that about her, I really do. But her success also means that she has to be taken seriously ALL THE TIME. Even in Canada this is still a bit of an issue. My 5 years as a retail manager taught me that women are not treated the same way that men are. My boss didn’t shake my hand, like he shook the boys’. He’d go in for a hug…and I am NOT a hugger. I had to be better than the boys to be noticed, and my boss has to deal with that same sexism in a country where equality is even more of an issue.
So when someone at work steps out of line, or doesn’t do what they’re suppose to do, I know that my boss has to yell louder to be heard. I know that she thinks that the only way she can be taken seriously, is to be serious all the time. This creates a very negative atmosphere. To only ever hear the bad (because saying the good can mean losing face) and to be jumped on for every small misdemeanor (even the ones you didn’t realize were a faux pas until it was too late…) becomes exhausting. Add the fact that the honeymoon phase is over, and it’s a pretty raw deal.
So why don’t I just pack up and move home, you might ask? Well, there are two reasons.
I am able to recognize that many of these issues I’m having at work are due to cultural differences. I recognize that my boss isn’t just a bad person. So much gets lost in translation here, and so many other things get mixed up because we have different expectations of what the boss/employee relationship is suppose to be. At the end of the day though, KNOWING THIS is what gets me through.
To help you understand my second reason, I need to tell a little back story here…
In 2006, when I left Xiamen, it wasn’t on my own terms. I was working for a school where the visas were not legit, and I was caught working with that bad visa. After 5 days at the immigration bureau, signing papers and answering questions in an interrogation room, I was handed back my passport with a big red stamp across my visa: REQUESTED TO LEAVE THE COUNTRY WITHIN 5 DAYS. It was heartbreaking. I was kicked out of a country that I’d learned to love so much.
When I returned home, my family and friends couldn’t understand why I missed China so much, after I’d been treated so badly here. People couldn’t see why I’d want to return to the cockroaches and language barriers and uncomfortable beds. But the thing is…once you’re back home for good…you miss everything about your life overseas; cockroaches, deportation and all!
Knowing that one day I’m going to miss every moment of this helps a lot. In a few years, I’m going to look back at my time in Guiyang and see how these bad days shaped me into the person I’m going to become. We’re all growing after all…we’re all becoming new versions of ourselves. My most important goal in life is to make sure that my next ‘version’ is an upgrade from the last.
So I’ll take these experiences in stride. Hopefully, the school will begin to see me for the teacher that I am: a hard working, caring and dedicated educator who wants what’s best for her students above all else. And if that doesn’t happen, well, I’m all about growth and moving forward. The best thing about Marie V.28.4 is that she’s been in these situations before. My experience and my determination will get me through any rough patch that shows its ugly face 🙂
I haven’t forgotten to write about my last few days of holidays! They’ll be coming soon, I promise!