May 6, 2010

How international experience can work against you

One of the examples of how an international person cannot be understood by a non-traveler was when I started working in the South Central LA as an elementary school teacher.

I had done my practicum in Puerto Rico, and I was used to being respected as a teacher. In the Spanish-based culture of that Caribbean Island, respect for teachers is something that is ingrained from a very early age. Those who choose to teach are seen as someone who has made the right choice and are held in high esteem by many.

On the US mainland, there is far less respect towards educators both from the public and the students. There is even a proverb that: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” This view of teachers along with low salaries does not seem to attract the best category of people to that profession.

However, my biggest shock was when I went from a very humble, well-behaved classroom of young Puerto Ricans who viewed their instructor with awe to the mainland American classroom where kids were nasty and arrogant, and very rude to boot. Mainland kids would not obey me, and I was repeatedly approached by the school staff and advised to: “get tougher on the kids”. After about two weeks, my classroom, which in the times of my Puerto Rico practicum was a place of silent contemplation of students by me and unquestioned obedience, became a bedlam. I definitely felt that cultural differences played a huge role in the behavior of children in class. Mainland Americans were VERY different from Puerto Ricans.

Eventually, these mainland kids became so rowdy in my class that I could no longer control it. I was then told that I was “too nice” and called on the carpet. When I faced the principal, I shared my concern with him and said that I had successful completed my practical training in Puerto Rico and that the kids there never ever behaved in such a rambunctious manner.

His response was “Children are children are children”. He had obviously never traveled and lived in a pure Hispanic environment and could not relate to my experience at all. To him, the world was like LA and the US and people everywhere were the same. But he was the boss, the one with the money and the one paying my salary. Other teachers were also giving me unpleasant looks. I was then asked to resign, my name was put on the Board of Education computer and now I would have problems being re-hired to teach in California again if I ever re-applied.

People who travel and get international experience may not always have it to their advantage. It can actually significantly stymie your ability to deal with things in another country. Call it reverse culture shock or by whichever other name, I was severely handicapped by it.

Eventually, I got a job teaching Hispanic adults and from then on it was smooth sailing more or less. However, I made a good note of that experience. Once an international person, you will never be the same again. And experience obtained in one place may not be applicable in another. And people who do not travel do not make very good bosses to those who do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would not judge students in PR as typical of "Hispanics." If you go to some Mexican American ghetto schools or those of Central Americans, you would be in for the shock of your life.