Friday, October 4, 2013

Culture Clash

A visual representation of the state of my mind. :)

Being a student again, after all these years, is a challenge.  I have to schedule my time efficiently, and live up to other people's expectations.  This time is fragmented between my classes, my homework, my family, my retail job, and, lastly (yes, lastly) my own personal needs.  Things like entertainment, friendship, exercise, and grooming (I never brush my hair) get relegated to some dream of future holidays.  I keep telling myself that I will treat myself to a pedicure when I get all my assignments done, and that never happens.  Living up to other people's expectations has never been a strong point either, since I always seem to see things differently.  However, the hardest thing so far, has proven to be the fact that I am in a foreign (albeit english-speaking) culture.
Outside the tunnel that I go through to get to school

Inside the tunnel/train station

When it comes to school, there are many small differences in the system, and in the way they expect students to act.  Whenever I am confused, I have to ask myself: is it my own stupidity; is it because I am older and haven't been in school for a while; is it because this is an art program; is it because this program isn't providing clear guidelines; or is it because I am used to the way things are done in America, the way people interact there vs. here, the way programs are run?  It is usually some combination of these things.  Trying to pick it apart and write about it is difficult because it is not clear to me.
I will try to explain just one aspect of how students are expected to behave here.  From the beginning, I was told that I should put on a happy face, act confident, and capable, even if I didn't feel that way.  I was told not to complain or show any doubt towards my work.  I can see some value in this from a psychological perspective, but we are, after all, students, and are supposed to be learning and improving.  I would also ask for feedback on my work, suggestions, or opinions, and I got very little.  I was told by my daughter, and by other people, that this is not how they do it in Australia.  They give you a score in the end but they don't normally give encouragement during the process.  They will sometimes tell you if you are doing something completely wrong.

I am not being dramatic (well, maybe a little), but, all this mental translating can be exhausting.  It challenges my confidence and my determination.  In the end, I try to just do what I think is best, and all the subtext gets squashed by the need to provide a result (i.e. I do what I have to do the best way I can). However, I can't help the social-psychologist in me from looking at it as a case study in multiculturalism and being an outsider.

Some of the students in the program seem to be used to the way things are.  They don't seem bothered when instructions aren't given till the last minute, or the schedule changes in the middle of the term.  Some seem to be cheerful and confident even as they are saying that they didn't do the work they were supposed to be handing in.  Some (o.k., one) even stated that she was just there for herself and didn't care about anyone else.  It is not the kind of student attitude that I am used to.

the magazine room at the school library where fashion students get to look at trend forecasts 

me working during Spring "break" no wonder I look demented

Anyway, I tried to understand all this and to adapt, to be the best student I could be, based on the information and standards around me.  But halfway through the year, I decided that that wasn't working for me and I said "f#@* it, I am going to do things my way."  I decided just to be a grown up and to try to get the teachers to understand me so they could assist me in ways that I needed.  I stopped trying to fit in.  Instead, I am just trying to build my own reality and to expand it little by little.  I will be the queen of my own story, but I will be a kind and democratic, sharing queen who is sometimes depressed and anti-social, and sometimes cheerful and out-going.

a design based on a photo I took of Mira's hands at the beach when she was 10.

another one in progress.  I really like this one.

My reality, right now, is full of ideas and images, and obsessions with design, color, print, and pattern.  There is a little bit filled with fashion and its impact on the environment.  I also have sections filled with my family, sunshine, swimming, the beach, flowers and birds, and very importantly, friends who understand me and care about me because of my honest character and not my age, status, or nationality.  If people like me, if I find success in this culture, it won't be because I am the most bubbly or cheerful person radiating positivity and success - that is not and never was who I am.


  1. Excellent Sheila. I never realized that another country might have a totally different way of teaching. Good for you to just be yourself and try your best. I know you will succeed ! Love Gramma Joan

  2. I agree with your darling Valerie, you rock Sheila!