Culture Shock: An Experience of Growth

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.

I think this picture shows it best.  Adjusting to a new culture is such a crazy mix of emotions!!
I think this picture shows it best. Adjusting to a new culture is such a crazy mix of emotions!!

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.

Like rat poop...in your desk and on the school's bookshelves.  That's getting REALLY annoying...
Like rat poop…in your desk and on the school’s bookshelves. That’s getting REALLY annoying…

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…

Our couch.  This is an improvement from the couch in the old apartment, which had no cushions.  The back isn't angled at all, and the cushions don't really help much, so 20 minutes after sitting down, your bum is completely numb.  I miss comfort
Our couch. This is an improvement from the couch in the old apartment, which had no cushions. The back isn’t angled at all, and the cushions don’t really help much, so 20 minutes after sitting down, your bum is completely numb. I miss comfort

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.

The foreign staff at Interlingua :)
The foreign staff at the school where I work
Lexie and I hiding behind a counter at the Halloween party.  We stayed hidden and jumped out at the kids as they entered the cafeteria :)
Lexie and I hiding behind a counter at the Halloween party. We stayed hidden and jumped out at the kids as they entered the cafeteria 🙂
My wonderful TA Talia and I.  She is really great.  I never need to ask for things twice and she's always there when I need someone to translate for a parent.  She's also super sweet and so nice to my students :)
My wonderful TA Talia and I. She is really great. I never need to ask for things twice and she’s always there when I need someone to translate for a parent. She’s also super sweet and so nice to my students 🙂

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.

One of the haunted houses I came in to finish on my day off.  I can't complain too much, seeing as how I love arts and crafts :)
One of the haunted houses I came in to finish on my day off. I can’t complain too much, seeing as how I love arts and crafts 🙂

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.

Apologies are hard to come by here...
Apologies are hard to come by here…

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…

Even Police Women wear skirts!  Appearance here is so important for women, that I worked with a girl who had been rejected from a Chinese airline when she applied for a job as a flight attendant.  The reason: her ears stick out too far from her head.
Even Police Women wear skirts! Appearance here is so important for women, that I worked with a girl who had been rejected from a Chinese airline when she applied for a job as a flight attendant. The reason: her ears stick out too far from her head.

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.

ARG1087.pvw
Rule with an iron fist, ladies…

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.

I'm sure not...
I’m sure not…

So why don’t I just pack up and move home, you might ask?  Well, there are two reasons.

#1

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.

number2

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.

Rejected_Stamp_by_Ashlyntear

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.

Marie V.28.4 - The 'in control' edition
Marie V.28.4 – The ‘in control’ edition

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 got this tattoo as a grad gift to myself.  In spite of how terribly painful it was to have done, I love what it means to me.  Grow, no matter what is trying to keep you down.  Oh and of course, I'm a musical junkie :)
I got this tattoo as a grad gift to myself. In spite of how terribly painful it was to have done, I love what it means to me. Grow, no matter what is trying to keep you down. Oh and of course, I’m a musical junkie 🙂

I haven’t forgotten to write about my last few days of holidays!  They’ll be coming soon, I promise!

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