Chongxi or the Wash of Misfortune

I’ve grown fond of China after seven months of living and working here. However, certain circumstances continue being a stone in the shoe.

A few days before the Chinese New Year holiday, I hurt my big toe during the rehearsals for the school celebration. Every step was so difficult during the 7 minute walk to the office and more so while teaching my classes.  This was the fourth day already. I left school to a hospital where I could be seen in private (I was tired of the “collective” consultations). A bilingual woman was waiting for me, she asked me what the issue was as I followed her to the doctor’s office. This was the first time I was going to be seen privately, and despite the pain, I had a feeling of wellness and relief.

“You Don’t Have Insurance”

The woman asked me for my insurance card.

“I don’t have an insurance card, but I have insurance through school.” I showed her all my other  documents: Passport, expert certificate, hospital book…asian-doctor

“You need an insurance card to be seen or you need to pay 400 yuan for the consultation.” I repeated my previous statement and added that she could look me up in the system, which she did, only to give me the bad news, “You don’t have insurance.”

Startled, I tried to convey an explanation that I myself could believe as well, but nothing coherent came out.

I texted our department coordinator and her answer just shocked me, “The insurance that is made available to teachers is for serious injuries, surgeries and conditions. If you are at the doctor and it is minor that is not covered.”

When I asked for an explanation she told me to talk to one the school’s officers. She works for the international school… and ours, the domestic. They were on vacation, but I could set an appointment with her a few weeks later.

The Foreign Affairs Officer

At the appointment the officer started, “Not because you’re friends with some people at this school that means you have the same insurance.” What? Where did that come from? I took a deep breath to prevent blurting out the answer I felt she deserved, then pulled out a copy of my contract, “Here it says the school provides health insurance, I went to the hospital and they told me I don’t have insurance, what’s the deal? I’m complying with my side of the contract, I feel that you’re not.”

She smiled in a condescending way, “It is different.”

“That’s what the coordinator said, that I can only use my insurance for emergences, but where do I go if I have an emergency? And who determines that? And, I don’t even own an insurance card!” I breathed again and pointed at the contract, “Plus, here it says, ‘Party A shall introduce to Party B the laws, decrees and relevant regulations enacted by the Chinese government,’ but nobody has explained anything to me!”

“Huh, I went to college in Europe and nobody explained the rules of the country to me!” She laughed superciliously and I was losing it. “I really don’t care about the ‘rules of the country’, I just need to know how the school works! And if the contract mentions ‘laws and decrees’ there must be a reason for it. You could have prevented a lot of stress for us foreigners who don’t know how the school operates by explaining this to us. Like, who’s my boss?”

“Your coordinator.”

“And, who’s her boss? You?”

“No, your coordinator’s boss is the school owner.”

“I need to speak with the school owner then.”

“You have to understand, she’s a very busy person.”

“I get it, but if I’m here for a year I’m sure she’ll have 5 minutes for me. How can I arrange an appointment? Can you show me where her office is?”

“I can talk to her to see when she can see you.”

“Perfect! And going back to my insurance. How does it work?”

She drew a horizontal line with the number 1,000. “When you spend up to 1,000 yuan out of pocket, the school gives you a refund. If you spend more than 1,000 we submit a claim to the insurance.”

Nevertheless, months ago our coordinator had said we had to spend 1,000 out of pocket before we were able to make an insurance claim.

“I haven’t spent 1,000 yuan yet, so I still can get the money back?”

“Yes, ask your coordinator to sign this form, bring it together with your receipts, and I’ll give you the money back.”

“Oh, great! Thanks! And when can I talk to the school owner?”

“I’ll let you know as soon as possible. And if you have any questions, just come to my office, I’ll be happy to help you.” Two months have passed. No news about the school owner despite my inquiries.

Back at the Office

wp-1489128211094.pngI asked the coordinator to sign the refund form. She seemed confused, “But, have you spent 1,000 yuan yet?”

“No, but I understand that if I bring my receipts I can get the money back.”

“That is only because you asked!” Whoa! I’m trying to practice not to lose face (stay put, not to lose respect) so I point at the document politely, “Will you sign here, please?”

“I have to ask.”

She makes a phone call, I hear my name, she hangs up.

“You’re not planning to go to the doctor anymore?”

“I don’t know, maybe.”

“They said they will save your receipts until you have reached 1,000 yuan, then they will file for a refund.”
“That’s okay. Could you sign here, please?”

I leave the signed form and receipts on the officer’s desk. Three hours later she shows up at our office with an envelope for me, “Here is your money.”

Maybe they didn’t want to lose face. However, why in the same day two people contradicted themselves about something so important as the health insurance? And why didn’t they tell us about it since the very beginning? I don’t get what losing face has to do with not following protocol. If the contract says they have to tell us the “laws and regulations”, why don’t they just do that?

The answer came to me when I was listening to the radio on the internet. This American Life Podcast 585 “In Defense of Ignorance” was talking about how Chinese doctors usually don’t give test results to the patients, but to their relatives, if it is bad news, the relatives decide either to tell them or not. And in honor of mental health… It’s better not to receive bad news. Chinese people think mental and physical health are deeply connected. On the radio, the Chinese lady told a joke, “One patient is healthy, the other patient is terminally ill. Their results are mixed up. The healthy patient gets the bad prognosis, and the sick patient gets the good results. A few weeks later, the healthy patient ends up dying while the sick patient ends up living a long life.” And let’s face it. If I hadn’t gotten sick and looked for private assistance I would have never known I didn’t have insurance and my thoughts towards administration, Chinese regulations, etc. wouldn’t have been affected. Instead, I had a headache, anxiety, became sicker, and resentful. They didn’t tell me about the lack of health insurance because they wanted me to work with them, and also “save face.”

I am also aware of chongxi or the Chinese believe that you can wash away a misfortune with joy. The coordinator never stopped smiling and giving me compliments despite of my long face, and the officer waves at me warmly when she sees me though she never responded to my messages about being able to see the boss. Nobody apologizes. People just go on, like a splice between before the dispute and the afterwards making the actual event vanish. No casualties.

School Schedule

wp-1487752948607.jpgLater that week, I was presented with another matter. I seriously believed I was done with the Chinese schedule and the “tentative” dates until they gave us the “tentative” schedule for second semester.  Because there are a few holidays we have to make up for the leisure time by working on weekends. Check it out. “Tentative” School Calendar 2017:

  • Week 7 Work on Saturday
  • April 2-4 Qingming Festival Holiday
  • Week 8 Work on Saturday and Sunday
images

Chinese students walk into the entrance of university for Gaokao test (photo from the web)

  • April 11-16 Gaokao Holiday
  • April 29-May 1 International Labor Day Holiday
  • Week 15 Work on Saturday
  • May 28-30 Dragon Boat Festival Holiday
  • End of School Year July 1 – July 5 ? ? ? Which Day? We don’t know!
  • Summer Holiday ???

I’m not kidding! This is the “official” document for our “tentative” school schedule and they wrote these last two bullets like that (question marks and exclamation point included). And as I’m writing this they have already changed one of these dates, last minute.

The end of my contract is June 30, and as far as I’m concerned, I’ll be taking off soon after.

I hope I don’t lose my face by then… Or my mind!

Teacher Schedule In China

First Days

The beginning was chaotic, but I went with the flow. I woke up early, put on my best smile, and went to the office days before my contract started because I wanted to be ready for my classes. There was no new teacher orientation, or a formal introduction to administration. It seemed there was no administrative staff. Just, one person, the foreign department coordinator. So she tells me, You start to teach on September 4th. Teach?? I thought my contract started on September 1st because I would have the first two weeks to plan, not because I was going to start teaching immediately! I’m an experienced teacher, but this is a new realm, I expected a little bit of input into the culture and the way students learn here. I didn’t have a list, or time to decorate my classroom, would I even have a classroom? I hadn’t been given a tour on campus, I didn’t know the school standards, goals, philosophy, rules, or even the lunch schedule (which I got completely wrong at first), and on top of that we started to work on Thursday, had Saturday off, but went back to work on Sunday. It didn’t make sense to have a day off before the first day of classes!

Schedule

The coordinator gave me a very thin sheet of paper with my schedule. Wait a minute! What schedule? I was given a time table with my four daily classes, but no classroom numbers. She just said I’d teach English grade 10. The first day she came with me to show me where my classrooms were, there I found another surprise, 42 studentswp-1481206622232.jpg, no chair for me, only a big table, a blackboard, and chalk.

I have low blood pressure and bradycardia, so that first day I was about to faint several times because I had nowhere to sit. I told the coordinator about it and her answer was, “In China teachers don’t sit!” I explained my medical condition hadn’t been an issue in the past, but she said that if I needed a chair I should ask the students. Where would they find me a chair if all the tens of desks were taken? I sat on the table a few times, but classes are so crowded I felt embarrassed to sit there  when the front row is literally against that table. Upon my insistence, they provided a “chair”…

Classroom Numbers

After the first day I asked the coordinator for the classroom numbers. “It’s very easy,” she said in her squeaky little voice, “English 1 in classroom 101, English 3 in classroom 103, English 5 in classroom 105, and English 7 is on the second floor.” Good! Ready for my second day I directed my steps to classroom 101. The students froze when they saw me until one of them uttered, “Your class no here!” I walked out, looked up, and pointed to my schedule, “Look! This is the correct number!”.

wp-1482159051287.jpg

“No, no, no, your English 1 is over there! I show you.” Kindly, the student left me at my English 1 classroom door, I checked, the number was 103. That was my whole day, asking where to go, except for English 7, which was on the second floor. I returned to the office to tell the coordinator she hadn’t given me the correct information. She screeched, “Yeah! English 1, class 101!” I stopped her. I hadn’t been able to find my classes without help. She pointed at my schedule, “Look! Class 1, classroom 101!” I knew this was going to go on circles so I asked her to come with me the next day. When we arrived I told her, “See? English 3 is in classroom 107.”  ” Ah, you don’t understand, don’t pay attention to those numbers, just learn where your classrooms are or ask the Chinese teachers.”

Unexpected Changes

One morning, the coordinator was screaming in Chinese on the phone. The only word I understood was my name, so I turned as she rushed to my desk. “You have to be in your lesson 7 right now!” wp-1482159062067.jpg

“No, today is Wednesday, my first class starts  at 9:50.”

“No! They changed the schedule! You had to have been in your class at 7:50!”

“Wha..”

“Hurry up! Come with me!” I put my things in my backpack, she starts to run, I start racewalking behind her. “Oh, you don’t like to run?” “My backpack is too heavy.” It was Wednesday, but she said, “Today is Friday schedule because students go home after lunch.” I was sweating when we arrived to the second floor classroom. “Ok, teach for ten minutes.” And she leaves.

The Domestic School

Since the first week we worked on Sunday the coordinator told us it was the beginning of the school year and we’d probably have to work on a Sunday again a couple more times, at least until the schedule was stable. We had a couple of days off, but we went back to work on Saturday. “Today is Monday schedule,” the coordinator announced. “It’s only for now.wp-1482159038412.jpg You won’t have to work on weekends once we get the schedule from the principal.” I sighed. A teacher had told me I could make good money teaching English on weekends, and I was looking forward to earning extra money soon. I inquired how he managed his side job when we had to work some weekends. He looked at me with pity. “Ah, you’re at the domestic school.” “Domestic? What do you mean?” It was then when I learned that my school is divided in two sections, actually two completely different schools. One is the international school, which follows the American model; and where I am, the domestic school, ruled by the Chinese people and government, even though both schools belong to the same person (whom I haven’t even been introduced to.) My friend didn’t want to discourage me, but he did say that things there were a little “different.”

Compulsory Evening Appearance

A little before the Mooncake Festival, which is a one-week holiday, the coordinator told us she was “making the program for tomorrow night” and started asking us for our talents individually. I hesitated. Why was she saying she was doing the program for “tomorrow night”? When did we get an invitation for an evening event? Since I didn’t have any plans for that night I told her I could do the cumbia, a traditional Colombian dance. Later I played it in my mind again. She hadn’t asked us if we could attend the holiday celebration, she informed us the time and place just a day before. That night it was raining a cántaros (cats and dogs). My umbrella didn’t prevent my beautiful long red cumbia dress to get soaking wet since there is a long walk from my apartment to the building where the event was being held. I did my dance, but it was still in the back of my head that we hadn’t been told about this celebration in advance.

Maybe a Possibly Definite Schedule ?

A month into my job I wanted to find some stability to hold on to. It had been too crazy and I really needed to know I had control over something, and the schedule was going to be that something. I kept asking for the year schedule, for the holidays, teacher workdays, etc. Chinese don’t have teacher workdays. Nevertheless, I continued asking for a piece of paper or a link to tell me when my vacations would take place. I got different answers from the coordinator that came to the same thing, “There’s no schedule yet, you have to wait a little.” It was just frustrating to have acquaintances at the international school planning for holiday trips and trying to include me in their plans when I couldn’t say yes or no because I didn’t know yet when I was going to be off.

Maybe this is my Kung-Fu Panda year. Maybe this is the Chinese philosophy, “Live for today and never plan for tomorrow… or for the next couple of hours.” But I just couldn’t take it. All we got was notes written with chalk on the office blackboard, tomorrow this, next week that, even a tentative New Year’s vacation  (who can buy tickets anywhere with this assurance?) with dates that constantly changed, and some notes didn’t even make a distinction between the primary and the high school, which was simply confusing.

So I put it out in the teachers’ WeChat group after the coordinator sent us this message:

-Coordinator: I will make a new winter schedule for high school and a new one for middle school tomorrow morning.

-Me: [@Coordinator], with all due respect, some of us need the year schedule so we can plan for visiting family, buying plane tickets in time, etc., especially for the long holidays like New Year’s.

-Coordinator: School doesn’t have year schedule. All the schools in China have to listen and wait for the government to announce the dates for each holiday.

My heart sank. I didn’t continue the conversation. This woman had been telling me to wait for the schedule, that we wouldn’t have to work on weekends after the first month, that everything was messy only because it was the beginning of the school year, that once we had a schedule from the principal it would be easier…

I contacted my cousin immediately. He had lived in China for 5 years. He certainly would know what the heck this was all about… Not knowing my schedule felt like a straight human rights violation. Having to work on weekends without being told in advance was shocking to me as well. Wasn’t it during the Nazi Germany that people were forced to work 60, 70, and 80 hours a week? Adolf Hitler tried to arrange the weeks to be longer, but the human body doesn’t work like that. Production lowered as illness and fatigue dominated. That’s how I felt after having to work 7  or 8 days in a row, and 13 days once!! When they told us we’d have a break during the week, then we would have to start teaching on a Thursday, but with a Monday schedule in mind.  That is probably one of the worst parts. The make believe game. Sunday we do Monday schedule, Wednesday we do Friday schedule, Saturday we do Tuesday schedule. At school I had to convince myself it was one day and after work people told me otherwise.

My cousin ended up speaking on the phone with the coordinator in perfect Mandarin. There was no clarification about schedules, except what it had been said above, but now at least they are trying to tell us about future events and “tentative dates” a little beforehand.

I learned that it is part of the Chinese culture to say yes to everything. They don’t want to “lose face.” At the same time, they don’t appreciate a direct answer, especially a negative one. That’s why I wasn’t told about the schedule issue from the very beginning, or that I was going to teach at the domestic school. They led me to believe the advertisement (international school established in 2010… same address, different management.) The domestic school is not even mentioned in the web. It might seem cruel to an expat, but it is their way to bring hope and happiness, as all their advertisement and food menus state. In all their evasive answers they just want to give hope. And the constant last minute changes… those are part of their normality, that’s why they are always running, so we end up doing the same. When in China…

Then I found this website. Pay attention to the adjusted working days… Argh!! So, it is real. The government tells its citizens when their vacation is and when to work on weekends.  The government decrees the holidays, and the government can change their mind, so we do have to “wait and listen.” However, these regulations don’t apply to the international school!

This country has a complexity that can be overwhelmingly frustrating. My cousin’s advice was to find what made me happy. Thank God the list isn’t short. I watch American TV shows on my computer (even though the internet sucks), have these amazing margaritas in Laowaitan (foreign neighborhood), exercise, read, go to the spa hotel, hang out with friends when possible, attend church, listen to Pastor Loran Livingston online, try to create art projects, keep up with friends and family in the US, look forward to the next country I’m going to visit, and write these long blogs to you, which is a great catharsis. Thank you for reading. You are the other half of my equation for sanity 🙂

The Importance of a Name

First Days In China

I don’t know anything about China and its people. I am just a passerby who is trying to learn and understand their ancient culture… after barely a week of living among them. I have started teaching English as a Second Language at an international school just today. I was following my coordinator to be able to find my classrooms, but she also stayed with me to help me with the Chinese names. Nevertheless it wasn’t only that I couldn’t read nor pronounce any of their names, the issue was that I had to re baptize them.

Photo on 9-1-16 at 4.05 PM #2

Ningbo International School (China)

Introductions

We went to my first classroom, I greeted the students in English, told them my name and tried to write it down on a blackboard (it’s been a while since I’d seen one of those), the piece of chalk broke with my first attempt, they laughed, I looked at them offering a weak “Namaste” (I know, wrong culture), and tried again, successfully this time.
Elina, my coordinator, told me, “I’m going to call out their names, and if they don’t have an American name you give them one.” I looked at her with disbelief. I had to “give them an American name”, that is a lot of power.

What My Name Means

I had a little flashback. My name is Kurma, but my parents called me “Kerma” all my life. I never understood why they’d change the pronunciation of the first syllable  of my name when in Spanish the vowels are always pronounced the same. When I asked my mother, she said, “Your name is German”, and I went by this for years until my eighth grade teacher told me that in German as in Spanish the vowels are pronounced the way they are written. But my parents, friends, and relatives called me “Kerma’, and I was perfectly happy with that, getting aggravated every time some silly acquaintance dared to called me “Kurma” with a u. Only when I visited the United States for the first time I understood. They called me something very close to “Kerma” at immigration . It is because the vowel “u” changes to the phonetic sound [^] when between consonants. Understanding this was huge. Also, at the first school I had the privilege to work, I bumped into the definition of my name in a small book. It has to do with one of the reincarnations of Vishnu in the shape of a giant turtle in order to churn the ocean of milk and find the chalice of eternal youth. From then on it didn’t bother me to be called “Kurma” with a u because that is the phonetic sound in my mother tongue and in sanskrit too; then in English, they use the [^] which sounds very close to “Kerma” so I have allowed myself to be identify with these variations of my name. But I draw the line here. Do not call me “Karma” or “Kermit”… THAT-IS-NOT-MY-NAME!!

Kurma
Kurma deva.jpg

Incarnation of Vishnu as a Turtle
Devanagari कूर्म
Affiliation Turtle God and second Avatar of Vishnu
Weapon Chakra
Consort Lakshmi

Lord Vishnu Has ten Avatars, of which this is the second

Chinese Names

Going back to my Chinese pupils. I felt it was a big responsibility to have to choose a name for them. If I were them, I don’t think I’d give them permission to call me by a Chinese name because in my small opinion there is a sacredness, uniqueness, semantics, and blessing that come with  that word or set of words bestowed upon you sometimes even before the moment of your birth.

Learning Moment

Know your strengths and limitations, and open your boundaries to make your bother’s/sister’s life lighter. In the United States I had a handful of Chinese students who told me they had chosen an American name, but since that name was the one in their progress report I didn’t think so much of it until now. I am humbled by the gift my students offered with both hands open. They resign to their names so that I (or any other foreign teacher) have a lighter burden. I am unable to speak their language so they help me by giving me the power to name them the way that is easier for me.

American Names

It was a pretty interesting exercise. Some expressed they already had American names, and though a few times they didn’t seem appropriate, my gift to them was to let them keep their chosen name. As far as for the others, I looked at them briefly and asked myself “What American name do you look like?” And I came out with a name for each one of them, without repeating, even when the classes are as big as 42 students. Thomas, Kevin, Alan, Lily, Jenny, John, Charles, Emma, Elizabeth… They are respectful, they listen, they follow instructions, and most importantly, they are very excited about their learning!!

I have bestowed them with a name, and in return they allow me to give them my gift. The gift of teaching.

Blessings to China!! ❤

 

Cultural Literacy for Latinos 101

“Cultural Literacy is the ability to understand and participate fluently in a given culture.” (E.D Hirsch)

Now that I am getting ready to be a panelist for NUEVOlution at the Levine Museum of the New South, I started asking myself what cultural literacy means. I read some excerpts and have found a variety of quizzes to test if you are culturally literate. These and my life experience helped me elaborate on what cultural literacy signifies to a Latino/a like me. Here are my own props after 11 years of living in the United States. This is personal (hopefully universal), but feel free to leave your opinion in the comment section.

Learn the Language

Jose at libraryBefore moving to North Carolina I learned everything I could about the American culture because even though I didn’t know about the term “cultural literacy” I knew how important it was to blend, listen, and be understood.

However, no matter how many movies and books you watch and read, I believe cultural literacy is something you acquire only when you have the physical experience of living in a different country for a period of time. I consider language as one of the main aspects of being culturally literate, though it surely extends beyond that.

“To have a second language is to have a second soul,” said Charles the Great. Language is intertwined with culture, customs, and world views. At the beginning I found it exhausting to speak in English all the time because as well as being involved in physical activity, by speaking in a second language your brain is working out, therefore it will need intervals of rest. Don’t feel frustrated, relax, take time apart, and start afresh the next day. Remember, people love it when you make the effort of learning their language, and some even find accents sexy! ☺

Use Polite Words & Expressions

When I had just arrived I heard people saying thank you, please, excuse me and sorry quite often. In my culture we might pass in front of or by another person without saying a word or by pushing gently if the space is narrow. If there is enough camaraderie we may say, “Move!” but all these little words from the American culture seemed unnecessary to me. We tend to be more  to the point. If you need something from the counter and there’s someone standing too close to what you need, you extend your hand to reach it and move on. But here in the US that is considered rude. So you need to make a conscious effort to use these words frequently. It’s the same when you are asking for a favor whether in person or by email. It’s not enough to say, “I need you to do this.” You will have greater chances of getting a positive response to your petition if you say something like, “I know you’re busy, but this thing came up and I was wondering if you would mind _____. I would truly appreciate it”

Make Sure You Know Your Way Around

In Colombia there is plenty of public transportation and the streets are numbered. You don’t even have to walk too far to a bus stop because any corner will do, as far as the bus driver can see you stretching your arm and flapping your hand. Now, you are in NC and you bought a car. The GPS is a fantastic device to get you anywhere by following that sensual voice. It wasn’t like that 11 years ago though. I knew how to get to work and back home and that was pretty much it. For other errands or gatherings I used to ask my friends and co-workers to give me a ride. They were all kind enough to drive me from and to where I needed to be, but this can become burdensome if months pass by and you are still relying on other people to be your chauffer. Carolinians are extremely kind people, but they also appreciate independence. Do your homework. Only ask for a ride if you absolutely need it, and a little tip: If you are carpooling, let’s say to a Church Retreat in Myrtle Beach or a concert in Asheville pitch in with gas money, it’s a nice gesture, and they’d be happy to carpool with you again.

Be a Good Tipper or at least Be a Tipper

Bernard in CartagenaThis takes us to restaurants, beauty parlors, taxis, etc. People from Colombia are used to paying the check, period. Even in local and fast food restaurants there is no obligation for you to leave a tip to your server since tipping is usually reserved for more upscale places. As for beauty parlors, taxis, massage therapists, and hotels (room service or housekeeping) we don’t even think about it. However, in the US it is expected that you give a tip for every service received (even medical, they usually add a 500% tip in hidden fees ☺). This could be, but not limited to, getting your dog groomed, carpet cleaning, manicures, pedicures, car wash… You name it, if there is a server involved tip him/her 15-20%.

Wash Your Hands Often

wash your hands pic

Sign found in a school restroom in Charlotte, NC

Colombians are used to buying food in the street, we handle money, the vendor receives it, serves you the scrumptious food, and none of the involved in the transaction washes their hands in between nor before. And no matter if you come from a rich or a poor background, in Colombia there are unannounced water cuts so we don’t think about washing our hands as often because we think of saving water as more important. North Carolina is a different story. You must wash your hands before eating, after blowing out your nose, after pumping gas into your car, after petting your dog, before feeding your family, before sitting at the table, and obviously after using the bathroom. Don’t feel guilty about wasting water; killing germs is the issue. If you aren’t near a sink, keep a little bottle of hand sanitizer with you and use it as needed. And a side note; handkerchiefs are disgusting. American people (as far as I have observed) don’t comprehend why we blow out our nose and put the snot back in our pocket. If you have a handkerchief, use it only next to your lapel, it is the only way it will be appreciated.

Be On Time

Yes. Colombians have our personal time zone and expect everybody else to be in there as well. Our schedule might be between 5 minutes to two hours off, but we expect you to understand and not make a big deal about it. I apologize for myself and my fellow citizens. At least in my case, this has been one of the hardest habits to break, but yes we can! A little tip: Plan to arrive to your appointments/dates 30 minutes earlier, you’ll probably arrive just in time taking into account everything that could happen between you getting ready and leaving your house. Try it for 21 days, that’s all it takes to create a habit! Your friends and coworkers will thank you for that and all their plans will run more smoothly.

Follow Dress Code

Colombian women are sexy, it goes without saying. Men love when we arrive to the work place with our tight clothes and high heels, but this might represent a big issue for your boss and female counterparts. Turn it down a notch. You still can look very nice without showing too much cleavage and/or legs. Distractions in the work place should not happen because of you. For an office party or a social gathering, ask if you are unsure. If you think you don’t have anything appropriate to wear ask a good friend if you could borrow a few pieces of clothing, or simply go shopping (if your budget is tight, go to a thrift store; depending on the neighborhood, you’ll find absolutely amazing deals just for a few bucks!) Don’t try to make a good impression. Make the best impression always!

The Pedestrian Has the Right of Way. I Repeat, The Pedestrian Has the Right of Way

In our country we respect the size and metallic power of a vehicle. Because we know it can cause irreparable damage to our bodies we rush to cross the street not without looking both sides before the short race. In NC though pedestrians are more laid back, so you as a driver has to stop and give them all the time they need. I know, I know, I know, some pedestrians take the latter to heart and cross slowly while texting or chatting with their friends, or they don’t look before crossing forcing you to make sudden stops. Well, here is when yoga comes in handy. Breathe, and Ommmm…

Appreciate, Cherish, & Respect the Free Stuff

This is a little note for my international students: America gives you FREE K-12 education, and pretty soon you will also be able to obtain an associates degree for free! If we had free education in Colombia we certainly would be a better country, crime would be reduced exponentially, people would look into the future with a new hope. Unfortunately, we have too many children in the streets, either working forced labor or panhandling. In the US though children find a shelter at school. You have free breakfast and lunch, free pencils, free paper, free textbooks, free instruction, and friends! I know many scholars think that coming from a low income family they won’t be able to pay for college, but if they build an excellent school history colleges and universities will be knocking at their door begging them to enroll in their institutions! This is truly why the United States is the land of opportunity, but you have to make it happen.

Embrace Your Culture and the Others’

Carnival-of-Barranquilla-as-national-pride1

Carnival of Barranquilla

This is a note for my fellow American citizens. We Latinos are loud, extremely friendly, we kiss and hug everybody, we are direct, we make a party of every occasion, and we might not be always on time, but we love your country and we are here to make it better, richer, more colorful and joyful. Accept our differences and similarities. At this point in time America is experiencing an amazing symbiosis, genetically, linguistically, culturally, and the result is a wonderful melting pot. We mix, we melt, we emerge into something different and better. Likewise there are hundreds of other cultures in the mix. Just go to the supermarket and you will hear at least five different languages, and find a variety of skin colors, and demeanors. Embrace the change, embrace the people. There is no other choice.

I would love to hear your opinions. In which ways do you feel you have changed in order to be culturally literate, or have the country changed you in any way? Do you know some people who have not “submit” to the culture at all after having lived in the US for many years?

Looking forward to responding to your comments!

Un abrazo inmenso y que Dios los bendiga (An immense hug and may God bless you).

Salud! ☺

I AM A TEACHER AND I DON’T HAVE ANY POWER

ONE PERSON CAN AND MUST ORIGINATE CHANGE, but that person needs to be in a strategic place.

I work at one of the toughest schools in NC. This is my sixth year as an ESL teacher (5 of them crying 1-5 times a week). I felt powerless in front of the bad manners and hatred students projected against me, and their low performance not because the scholars weren’t smart enough, but because they didn’t care or lacked the motivation. I started creating mental strategies for them not to get under my skin, but inevitably I usually ended up crying on my way home, overexercising, and screaming at the top of my lungs in Zumba class when there was a move that emulated a punch or a kick. That was my strategy. Survival.

Administrators kept adding to the emotional load. When I was hired we had a good principal; then we had one that… oh well, he simply wasn’t a people person (which is somehow important when you are working with… you guessed it, people). I felt trapped between rudeness and a bunch of deadlines.

Now, if you are a pet lover you know there are a great deal of things we learn from our pets. Compassion, being the most important one. But what I have noticed is that our own behavior sometimes resemble the one of our furry ones. We look puzzled, like them, when someone gets mad at us when we are caught in a “bad” behavior. Like when Boomer, my dog, pees on the carpet and I yell at him pointing out at his mess. He looks at me puzzled and concerned, kind of trying to figure out why I am so mad and waiting for me to stop my little “tantrum.” Likewise we might be mean not knowing we are hurting someone’s feelings. We might make fun of a friend’s “ugly” dress while getting high fives from others; but when our friend confronts us with tears on her cheeks we look at her puzzled thinking, “What I said was really that bad?” And when they finish their speech we hug and console each other because now we both have learned something. We are seeing beyond our own persona.

Going back to my students… They talk too much, they use profanity way too much, they also fight, and bully others. And when they are caught and confronted by my angry expression, they look puzzled, like Boomer, as if nobody had taught them respect and obedience. They inflict pain to others unknowingly, and the sad thing is they leave their number ones and twos all over the place.

I am a Christian woman and forgiveness should be my priority. However, I hadn’t been able to forgive the scholars for their behavior and the “suffering” they inflicted upon me unknowingly (Luke 23:34 They do not know what they are doing). Through the years I have been able to observe that if we receive hate and abuse, what comes out is hate and abuse, which is the same as saying “Hurt people hurt people.” I was an abused child, therefore I was a handful for my teachers, but I couldn’t find the connection before. It is only now that God has opened my eyes. Fortunately, there is a cure against this cancer, and you don’t have to spend a single penny on it. It’s called “love”. Quoting my yoga instructor, “Where there is love there is no fear, where there is no fear there is no anger” (1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love because fear has to do with punishment). The good news is if you are one of those stray dogs who hurt people you can learn new skills or behaviors to find inside peace which will reflect in the outside. I am talking to teachers and students specially.

I don’t have any power. I lost it. I lost the power to punish and walk away during hard situations. I lost the power to hurt and feel hurt. I think of everything God has done for me. How he has stopped my tears on the palm of His hand uncountable times. My dog’s face gives me encouragement as well. I don’t yell at him anymore. If he pees on the carpet it is surely my fault. If my students curse, fight, or bully, I don’t lash back at them and walk away. In my mind I caress them behind their ears, which softens my expression, and they come back to push their head under my hand.

Dr. Timisha Barnes-Jones

Dr. Timisha Barnes-Jones

A new school year has come and I am in the same place physically, but thank God, not emotionally. We have a new Principal, Dr. Barnes-Jones. I feel overwhelmed with all the meetings and information received; however I can say with a big grin on my face that I have hope. We are being trained to change through the No-Nonsense Nurturing Approach. We have a new set of rules that create a CONSISTENT, STRUCTURE, PREDICTABLE environment, and yeah, school already feels different ☺

I come from Bogota, Colombia, and it took one man, one crazy man with a vision to make us believe we could be better. The city and its inhabitants had the potential and the responsibility to be better. Like everything, it takes a leader to move a multitude. For us cachacos (the way they call people from Bogota), it was that crazy Major Antanas Mockus. It sounds funny now but he and Enrique Peñalosa, his sidekick, actually taught us to put the trash in the trash cans, to pick up our dogs mess, to obey the street signs, to be careful with our belongings, to stop jaywalking, to RESPECT our city and the people we shared it with.

Boomer
Boomer

It is said that happiness comes within. That is partially true. The environment (work, friends, co-workers) play an important part on your wellness. I used to feel miserable at work and be a whole different persona at home. I didn’t even wear make up and wore my less attractive clothes to come to school because “they didn’t deserve” to see my beautiful side. Now we have a new leader. Dr. Barnes-Jones is strong but soft, she likes to sing, she has shared her story with us, and through her I have been able to see myself. Beautiful. Confident. Strong. Determined. Committed. I found a purpose where I felt helplessness. God is my Shepperd, I will not fear.

Keep the faith. Every morning is only the beginning.

Yours honestly, truly, and lovingly,

Kurma Murrain ♥