Say what you want about the trials and frustrations of working in a foreign culture, but it has done something very important and useful for me. It has made me almost blasé about sudden changes of plan or last-minute information that I would once have expected to receive several weeks in advance.
It drove me absolutely insane when I first got here. I wanted to hit people, seriously! Or at the very least, I wanted to throw childish tantrums and stomp my feet and pound my fists. Or cry. I remember slamming a door violently on at least one occasion, and secretly crying angry, frustrated tears on another. The lack of communication has not changed, and I have come to realise that it won’t, ever. It’s just a difference. A big, confusing, maddening difference (to both sides), but no one’s fault.
So, I suppose I must – at some point – have decided to just accept it, get used to it, and deal with it. It occurred to me, when I re-read that “explosion” post I linked to in the previous paragraph, that the same sort of scenario with the graduation photos is almost certain to have happened last month, but I have absolutely no recollection of feeling angry or upset. I just remember breezing in to have my photo taken at some point, and casually sticking my head into a classroom occasionally to see if I was meant to be teaching in it, or, y’know, whatever. I had no more information than I did that first year… just two years of experience, and the relative calm and unflappability that apparently comes with that. I think that’s a pretty good thing to have developed, as a previously panicky, highly-strung type! Thanks, Korea.
So anyway, on a related note, I arrived in work this morning and found myself being dragged into the office while I was still attempting to remove my shoes and earphones. Ummmm, so… said Jennifer in the way she does when she’s about to inform me of something she figures I might have liked to know quite a bit sooner, tonight you will present the graduation ceremony in English and I will translate into Korean.
I looked at her for a moment before speaking.
WTF?!!! Arrrghhh!!! Not on your life! Why the hell are you only telling me about this now?
That’s what I would’ve said a couple of years ago.
OK, cool, I said calmly, masterfully suppressing my fear of parents for the time being, uhhh, I’m presenting the entire ceremony? I mean, intro, awards, names, speeches… everything?
Everything, said Jennifer, passing me a copy of the programme and script. Well, the Korean script, with the occasional sentence in English. Oh, this was going to be foolproof.
Before I’d even had time to adjust to my new reality, I found myself with a microphone in my hand, rehearsing with the director and the principal on the stage as I frantically scribbled translations. I tried my best to follow all the discussions in Korean, lest I miss out on another essential piece of information and find myself writing, choreographing and performing a solo musical number with 5 minutes’ notice.
I am extremely nervous, of course, but the main thing to note is that I received the belated, undeniably important information in the same way that I might if I were being told that we were having noodles instead of rice for lunch. That – amongst other things – is what Korea has done for me. I am very grateful to it!