Wednesday, April 25, 2018

"Ask Culture" thoughts

Well, really, this turned out to be more "guess culture" thoughts. And it's related to my whole "doing things I don't want to sometimes because I'm afraid people will hate me" thing.

I've talked about this before, the whole "ask vs. guess" culture thing.  I know some people think "guess culture" is passive-aggressive and all that stuff, but coming from the perspective of one firmly in it: I think it's actually at times more polite. We don't request stuff we know is a burden or an over-reach.

The problem is: sometimes when people ask us stuff, we assume THEY think it's totally reasonable, and for us to say "no" might seem churlish or worse.

I ran up against this the other day. A program on my campus to partner with a couple Chinese universities is slowly developing (International students probably are our future, and I am fine with that). But. There is going to be a "faculty exchange" program where a faculty member goes over there for a summer to teach - all expenses paid, and you get paid pretty darn well (you get paid MORE than summer teaching USED to be here, back in the palmy days when teaching in summers was an excellent deal).

The person who is involved with this came and asked me about the classes I taught and suggested I consider it.

Okay guys. I really don't want to go overseas anywhere for a summer. For a lot of reasons:

1. Summers are my field seasons. They're when I do research and also (lately) when I prep for the fall and get caught up on things I let slide during the regular year. And it's when I rest up for the fall. Going overseas would totally change that.

2. I am not...comfortable...with the thought of going to a country where I am not fluent in the language. I might, grudgingly, be comfortable going to France; I have spoken French (more or less) since I was 13 and I can understand spoken French pretty well. I don't think I'd be comfortable going to Germany, even though I know some of the vocab and can string together baby sentences: I don't understand spoken German all that well yet, and yes, I know many Germans also speak English but still. I have enough weird minor health things that I could see winding up in a hospital some weekend and not being able to communicate easily with the doctors and nurses and that would be terrifying. Double that with a country where English is probably less common and I know maybe two words of the language.

3. Dietary restrictions. I have some weird and specific food allergies (An allergist once warned me miso could kill me, and while I know that's Japan and not China, still: it's harder to know everything in what you're eating when you're not fluent in the language). And hives from about half the plant kingdom. And a sensitive stomach where too much acidy food, or too many vegetables, or something too spicy, or too much fat of the wrong kind makes me upset....I don't think I could live on noodles (the place we'd be going would be in the North) for two months.

4. Having older parents with some health challenges, and what a horror it might be to have to try to get back Stateside on short notice (and on my own dime) if it came to that.

5. Super-introvert here and the thought of going somewhere where I know literally two people who would be there scares the crap out of me. I did that once in my life (moving down here) and I really would rather not do it again.

6. The whole single-woman-traveling-alone issue adds another layer of discomfort. Yes, I presume we'd be housed in secure places and more or less looked after and all that, but still: I do worry about going somewhere unfamiliar, where I don't know the culture and maybe don't pick up well on signals (and so: either over-react or wind up in a dangerous situation because I don't recognize it as such)

And yes, yes, I know: it's a great opportunity and it's good money and it would be cool to learn about a different culture and the students would be appreciative and maybe I'm just being a little xenophobic, I don't know. But I don't want to. I don't want to leave my nice comfy bed for two months and have to adapt to a different diet and worry about what I'd do if I got sick and all that. (And a lot of those worries would also apply to a trip to even somewhere like Canada to teach)

But I thought about it much of the evening and I was like "how can I say no if they come back knocking on my door and say "okay so are you going to do this?" what's a gracious way for me to say "no" so I don't look like the Ugly American, even if maybe my reasons are at heart Ugly American reasons? And could saying "no" hurt my continued tenure, could it be seen as non-collegial, even if Reason 1 ("it's my fieldwork season") is a pretty big reason?

Anyway. Another colleague called me in to his office this morning to see if I'd been asked. And I said yea, but I was hesitant, and gave the "but it's my field/recuperation season" and "I have a weird stomach that doesn't like unusual food" and my "my dad is 83 years old" reasons and he kind of nodded and said that yes, it's a good opportunity and all but there are some concerns. (He noted the place we'd be going is "very close to" North Korea, but then again, I doubt that would be as big of a concern for me)....and on and on. And then he noted: "No one can force us to go if we don't want to" and I kind of feel better about it now. (Though secretly I was hoping he'd be super enthusiastic and go "Well, if you don't want to go I will jump on it!"). He did also note that adjuncts could be hired - and would be paid WELL for a change - to do it, and you know? Maybe that's the answer. That kind of thing is a young person's game anyway - I could see some of our recent graduates who want to teach but haven't gotten a permanent job yet taking that and using it as experience, and that would be a win-win - they'd make more than twice what they could adjuncting, plus get cool experience towards getting a permanent job. (I don't need that kind of experience; as I said, at this point, if I leave this gig it will be either (a) retirement or (b) I will leave academia altogether because it's gotten too broken for me to stay in).

So I feel a little better about it and if this particular person has misgivings about going halfway 'round the world to teach for a summer, I don't feel like such a stick in the mud or worrier for feeling like that.

1 comment:

purlewe said...

There are people who are more adventurous than you who would enjoy the chance. But that does not mean that YOU have to go out of your comfort zone to be adventurous. You might enjoy many aspects of it, but I think that there are too many aspects you would not enjoy at all. And so leave it to people who want to do it. I don't think that anyone should ever pressure someone to take that kind of thing on.