Today was an awful day but it inspired me to write a bit about the feeling of isolation here. Not to turn this into one of my international studies courses, but it’s something I have to deal with constantly so I figured I might as well share it.
In emails and on the blog I know I mention feeling lonely, but the causes for this are more complicated than they seem. Obviously, a huge factor is missing people from home. But I also feel very much like an outsider here, and, as my parents nicely put it, that’s because I am an outsider. This plays out in several different ways in my day-to-day life. First, there is the language barrier. Everyone here speaks English, but very few of them choose to do so. They’re very good about using English in staff meetings but otherwise as soon as I am not immediately involved in a conversation (which is most of the time) they switch.
Today a big thing I struggled with was dealing with the feeling of being taken advantage of. This obviously is something I have to worry about most frequently when I meet men here, because their intentions are very rarely anything other than trying to date me (still better than intentions in some of the other countries I have visited). This means that I must keep a distance from even curteous and friendly men, until I know for sure that that’s how they will stay. But it applies to women too, often because they assume I have money. I will make a new friend and feel excited until they ask for money. This happens quite often, and I’ve gotten very good at explaining that I’m just a poor volunteer… Today the problem was co-workers trying to get me to do their work for them. Two women, who have both spoken probably 3 words to me since I arrived, approached me for help today and I gladly said I would do what I could. My attitude changed, however, when I discovered “helping” meant writing essays for them. As in essays that they needed to write to be able to teach upper primary classes (something along the lines of 500 words on how to use a textbook to support teaching but not use it as a crutch). They did not want me to proof read or offer suggestions, they actually asked me to write the essays myself, and proceeded to argue with me when I said I didn’t think that was fair (which I think I said quite politely).
The last aspect of this whole outsider business that springs to mind applies to the kids, typically my biggest allies. There are times that I feel like they think I am a joke. They treat me differently from other teachers, and while this is to be expected, it often means they show me less respect, question me more (not ask questions, mind you, question me), and refuse to follow directions. This applies even more to some of the younger children who I don’t see in classes, and has gotten increasingly frustrating this week with opening the library.
I didn’t mean for this post to be quite so depressing (or long!) and I’m not trying to evoke pity or encouragement to stay strong, I just wanted to make sure I explained why the world teach warning that “loneliness is often the biggest problem faced by volunteers” is true, despite the fact that I am surrounded by people.
p.s. as a side note I was recently asked in an email if I want people to post comments on the blog so I thought I would share my answer here for everyone to see. You most certainly don’t have to, I understand the idea of internet posting shyness, but I encourage you to if you feel a strong response (I do check to see if people comment). More importantly I think most people reading this have been emailing me, which is also helpful because it lets me know what you find interesting, what I should explain and who you are! So I do ask just let me know if you’re reading in any way you would like!