These past few weeks have been difficult for me. All of a sudden, I feel like I’ve been dealing with cultural difference after cultural difference after cultural difference and they all have gotten to me in some way. Perhaps, I am more homesick than I thought. Perhaps, that is making me feel more sensitive than normal. I felt lonely when I first got to Bogota, but what I´m feeling now is different. I miss what I know, which is NYC´s culture. I know how to act and what reaction I will receive. Here, in Bogota, I often feel like I not only don’t fit in, but I´m not welcomed. At times, I´m not respected. It makes me feel terrible, and it’s getting to me.
Here’s one recent experience that hasn’t helped things. I went to have a snack with a fellow professor and her daughter. The conversation started fine. We talked about the daughter´s plans to study outside of the country and I mentioned that Fulbright Colombia offers scholarships to Colombians. Well, she replied that she didn’t have any interest in going to the US. The way it was said was a little rude, but hey, to each their own. Perhaps, she’s someone who doesn’t want to be told what to do. As the conversation progressed, we talked about English instruction in Colombia and I mentioned the improvements I wished to see at school. Soon, the conversation turned. The daughter mentioned that native English speakers get paid more to teach English that Colombian English teachers do. That I knew, but it was her tone that bothered me. It was an angry tone, and one I didn’t know how to deal with. I mentioned that I did not have a solution for that, but I did see people talking about it online in the several English teaching in Colombia groups on Facebook. I also mentioned that people talked pretty negatively about foreigners coming to Colombia to party and do drugs. She mentioned she had not seen those, but that many foreigners do come to do that. I said I personally did not (can you tell I was offended?). I said that I work my butt off and I don’t have time to party. She then replied well many foreigners do come to do that. It was like whatever I said didn’t matter, and I felt I was failing to defend the foreigners who do come to work as hard as I do. The mom told me that I shouldn’t take what her daughter was saying in a bad way. How could I not with her tone? How could I not when it seemed to me that she did not want foreigners in Colombia? At one point, she mentioned it would be better to invest in Colombian teachers than to invite people from other countries to come. Ok, how is Colombia going to do that without the presence of native speakers? Now, being a native speaker does not mean that you are able to teach your own language. You need to get trained in teaching a specific language and have experience doing so, but if you know where Colombia stands in terms of English language instruction, you will understand why the government is trying to improve it. Honestly, I was so offended by all of the anti-foreigner stuff I was hearing from the daughter.
Now, I’ve thought a lot about that conversation. A Colombian friend told me that they think the daughter was envious of foreigners, while another told me, “Well, she didn’t say anything bad about you.” So what exactly was the point of mentioning of all this negative crap about foreigners to my face if the intention wasn’t negative. I just don’t understand, and I hated how much the daughter was so eager to show me how terrible foreigners are in her eyes. It was quite hypocritical of her when she had mentioned earlier in the conversation that she was super offended by how someone in a country she visited asked if she was going to sell cocaine. If she was bothered by that, why didn’t see how offensive she was being? During the conversation, I asked her how could she not like the US if she hadn’t visited,and she said that she would only go to visit Disneyland and laughed…is that not the same as coming to Colombia just to have fun? The exact same thing she was criticizing foreigners for?
This experience, among with a few others have bothered me quite a bit, but I am more interested in figuring out ways to handle experiences such as these. I’d rather not get offended than take these things personally because they really eat at me and I want to be happy living in Bogota. Currently, it depends on the day and that’s disappointing to me. Interestingly enough, today, the mom gave me a handout on understanding the differences between warm and cold cultures. I think she understands that I felt uncomfortable during that conversation and I am currently having a hard time in Colombia. One light at the end of tunnel did pop up momentarily when I showed another teacher the handout I received and he told me about his experiences of living in the middle east and how he felt like an outsider as well. He told me what I am feeling can happen anywhere, and I think he’s right. I’ll feel better when I’m passed this phase though.