We’re nearly 2 months into our Beijing experience and I was just pausing to think about how living elsewhere makes you question your sense of what is “normal” as you view a new context. Perhaps the first experience one has with this is when, as a child, you go for a sleepover at another child’s house. That is if sleepovers are normal. I remember my son in first or second grade once bringing a young classmate home on the bus who had never been on a sleepover, and so they decided that it would be a good idea for him to try it out at our house. The poor frantic mother when her son didn’t get home, but we managed to iron it all out and said child was lent a pair of pyjamas and a new toothbrush was procured and sleepovers became a new normal for him too. In someone else’s home you experience different norms and conventions for communication, discipline, eating, sleeping and relationships.
A more extreme experience of this was when, as an 18 year old I left home to spend a year in the Netherlands as a rotary exchange student. Inter-cultural differences in the home became intra-cultural differences and at times it was hard to know what was due to different cultures and what was due to just different human relationships.
So too, when you change a country and a school and a division all at once, you’re thrown into a whole new situation and then that laborious process of sinking under and trying to swim upward begins. While seeing what is truly different, what just looks different, how it relates to what you already know, what you still need to learn, or find someone to explain to you.
That was my state of being on Friday. I’d begun to work out what I didn’t know. It may sound trivial, but it meant I could start to move forward on finding the people and resources I need to bridge those gaps.
I’m also starting to try to tease out what is middle-school culture, what is my-school culture and what is being-in-China culture. That’s going to take a while because our school is in a process of immense change, so that adds a layer of complexity to the process as it’s not a simple process of just asking around some trusted colleagues what the way is of doing things, as at times they’re grappling of the new way themselves. The uncertainty of change can have an underestimated pernicious effect on relationships and communication as a group attempts to move to a new normal. It’s an interesting time.