Wednesday, June 11, 2014
expat perspective: a new normal
Usually I do not write about topics like this but after two weeks of repetitive tragedies in the United States due to gun violence, it's been a constant topic of conversation in my office and something that is impossible to ignore, even from an ocean away.
Local Taiwanese teachers and parents wonder: what is going on in America and is it safe?
They have a right to wonder. After all, 99 percent of our students go to college in America.
But all I can do is shrug my shoulders in the face of their questions and concerns.
We, the Americans on staff, try to explain that the events that recently unfolded in Seattle, Santa Barbra and Portland are not surprising or shocking.
We are used to it.
We expect it.
As teachers in America, we are trained for the eventuality of it.
We're taught to lock the doors, turn off the lights, cover the windows and huddle our silent students under their desks or in a corner while trying to remain calm and reassuring.
Some teachers have even been trained to disarm gun men and some now legally carry weapons in their classrooms.
It's the American norm and regardless of what people say or think, it has been for a while.
I grew up in the era of Columbine and remember my father telling me over dinner at the dinner table to zig-zag run or drop and play dead if I ever heard gunshots at school.
Then, from my very first day of teaching in America, I was prepared for the possibility that someone on a murderous rampage would come to my school building with the intent to kill my kids and me. Safety experts came to our staff meetings to go over possible scenarios and how to best respond.
All I could remember thinking the first time I sat through such a meeting is: I am here to teach kids about literature and grammar and spelling. Why am I doing training that people in the army or police force do? This.is.wrong.
But it was my norm so I did it and it is still the American norm so that is what teachers do and those are conversations parents have over dinner while seated at the family dinner table.
After living abroad, I see the acceptance of this for what it is and was: inexcusable insanity.
And now, after two years living outside of America and traveling the world extensively, I can say with confidence: it is not normal and other people do not live this way.
And luckily, I have had two years in Taiwan to rewrite my norm as a teacher, woman and fellow society member.
And I have.
I live in a country where gun ownership is illegal.
I live in a country where schools have no concept of lock down drills or intruder drills.
I live in a country where my classrooms have sliding glass doors that lock at the end of the day with literal chains and hanging locks.
I live in a country where violent crime is extremely rare and mass murder is nearly unheard of.
I live in a country where everyday, regardless of the time or my location, I feel safe.
I live in a country where the concept of teachers being trained to fight off gunmen is viewed as absurd and insane.
As it should be.
And I live in a country that has proven to me that the U.S. is not normal.
It is not okay.
Are there other countries out there in similar situations?
But it is not the way things have to be.
It is not our only option.
Our kids could go to school and be safe.
We could go to shopping malls, restaurants and movie theaters and be safe.
We could walk down the street and be safe.
Being an expat, especially in Taiwan, has given me new perspective on the world and on lifestyles and on choices.
We could choose to be different.
But in the meantime, I will simply feel lucky that I, a middle school English and social studies teacher, can go to work without fear of violent crime because so many of my teacher friends and so many of your children cannot do the same back home.