Monday, May 21, 2012

When lines are crossed

Maybe you've had something awkward at work happen? You break something, a coworker is being inappropriate with you or you just need some time off. These challenges are normal and bound to happen. But place a language barrier on top of these scenarios and you have one very different situation.

I had something happen to me on Friday with my 3rd grade girls and although I'm all about the sharing and being open in my blog, this is one thing I think I'll choose to go easy on the details with. Basically, I look different to what these kids are used to, and this combined with childish curiosity and a need to test the foreign teacher, I felt a line was crossed and was made incredibly uncomfortable and emotional. Now I have heard that Koreans are not always comfortable with displays of emotion so I sat at my computer, holding back tears and wondering what they hell do I do now?

I've said it before and I'll say it again; the one thing I miss most about home is being able to communicate. And in this situation, I was really torn and anxious. I knew the issue needed to be brought up and addressed to prevent it happening again but who do I speak to and how? What is the procedure here? After a weekend being distracted by the beauty of Korea (blog on that to follow at some point) and asking the advice of friends, I knew walking into school yesterday that I needed to speak to someone. My coteacher is an incredibly warm and understanding person and so chose her as my first point of reference. I managed to get what I needed to say across to her and the kids were spoken to. Although relieved that it's all over, I can't help looking back and being frustrated with the whole situation. I have no way of telling if I was properly understood or not and what the kids were told. In an already awkward situation, I had the added issue of not knowing how to deal with it in an environment where I'm an outsider and largely unaware of 'how things work'. Which brings up another point I've been thinking about lately - where is the line between accepting the different culture I'm immersing myself within and being taken advantage of.

The situation with my 3rd grade girls went beyond cultural/childish curiosity. They were out of line and would never have acted that way with a Korean teacher and that is one of the biggest issues here. I am a big advocate for picking your own battles, especially here. There are things that I have accepted a lot easier than I thought I would; the spitting does not bug me as much as it used to; the stares and questions can be ignored, the noisy eating over-looked, the last minute changes at school can be dealt with etc. I try never to forget that I am the foreigner here, I am an outsider and chose to come here therefore I need to be the tolerant one. But there also comes a point when you need to stand up for yourself and expect to be treated with a little more respect. I got to that point with these kids on Friday, and I feel that's okay. I know a lot of people are going through similar things to me and finding it incredibly difficult to be in an environment where we are so foreign and everything in turn is so foreign to us. And we do need to learn not to sweat the small things and just go with the flow. But when lines are crossed and we are made to feel uncomfortable for the mere fact that we look different, then that is not okay.

I'm glad I got this sorted and my advice to anyone coming into this is although things feel awkward and you never quite know how to bring certain issues up (even asking for leave feels awkward to me) you need to communicate as best you can. They do care, the teachers are there for you in most cases and you will feel more in control if you address the situation which is stressing you out. Goes for anything in life but here especially.

Don't ever be afraid to stand up for yourself.

Having said all this, and realising that not knowing the situation might make this seem all a bit more dramatic than it is, know I'm fine and this was just a note on a hurdle I overcame this week which might help someone else out there :)


1 comment:

  1. Sorry to hear you had some lines that were crossed. I commend you for being open to the changes and the culture, and also recognizing what battles to pick. Many teachers who have been here longer have yet to view their position as such, and will continue to be unhappy in their roles that are blurred with unrealistic expectations on how they should be treated here.

    That being said, I commend you again for bringing up a situation that you feel crossed a line and not only upset you, but made you feel uncomfortable. I can pick up on the kind of thing that was said to you or how you were treated because I understand that some of these kids are not only fearless in their criticisms, but unaware that what they are saying can come across as cruel or a "faux pas" to a foreigner.

    You did the right thing in confiding in someone you trust at your school, and you can only let it go and trust that the students were appropriately disciplined or enlightened. That is out of your hands and although you don't seem as though you would be the kind of person to worry much, it is worth it to say now that all you can do is move on from here.

    To relate, I have a class of students who would never pull the kind of shenanigans with the Korean teachers as they do with me, and I have made it clear to the students and my co-teachers that I will not tolerate this kind of behavior. If I feel inclined to discipline myself, I will. When I do approach the situation on my own, I will notice a shift in behavior from the students who, strangely enough, do respect me more after I put my foot down. They do have to know that you are in control of the classroom, and they are only making it harder on themselves by acting out.

    Keep your chin up, as you always do. You already understand many people go through similar circumstances and you are not alone in dealing with misbehaving adolescences.

    Cheers, darling. Stay fabulous.