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Monday, May 9, 2016

expat gratitude: saying yes (and no)

Sometimes, it can be difficult to accept who you are-- the real, true version of yourself-- instead of the person you would like to be. Today, I am writing another post in my series Expat Gratitude. This series is about how moving abroad has changed my life for the better.

Over the past four years, I have had many opportunities to see my real, true self. While I certainly believe that people can change, and while I myself have certainly changed, I think that our core person often remains pretty much the same.

When I was growing up, I managed to make friends and do moderately well on any endeavor I set my mind to. In every sense, I was a completely average girl. And I still am, except now I guess I am a woman. Then and even now, I sometimes find myself wishing I was more exciting or social or talented or interesting or something more than, well, normal

But I am just me.

And what I am grateful for today is finding a sense of comfort in my own skin, normalness and all. 

I realized this at work the other day.

My school asked me to be a mentor teacher to a student teacher. In my opinion, this is a huge compliment. The school thought about whom to ask, and then chose me. I was excited and petrified at the same time. Imagine having someone job shadow you for five full weeks, literally following you around to analyze what you say, how you say it, what you do, how and why you do it... you get the picture.

Four years ago, I would have been too afraid to say yes to such a request. I would have been too self conscious and too worried about everything that could go wrong. I would have thought: I can't do that.

Now? I said yes.

And you know what?

The experience has not been 100 percent smooth sailing. I had one student read a very serious poem aloud to the rest of the class with an Elmo voice. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. I had another very good student get annoyed and tell another student to eff off. Once again, why this had to occur in the presence of my student teacher? I cannot tell you. I even had a student explain the four principal parts of a verb to the rest of the class using the verb to fart; present- I fart/ present participle- I am farting/ past- I farted/ past participle- I have farted. Why? That I cannot tell you. But you know what? Nearly all of my kids aced that part of their grammar test on verbs, and I partially credit the fart kid for that.

This is just part of being a middle school teacher.
Personally, all but the second anecdote made me laugh out loud.
I didn't even really cringe.
I only slightly worried how bizarre my classroom must seem to an outsider.

But this is my life.
I am not ashamed that my classes are not perfect, and I am not ashamed that my students are real, live human beings of the 13 & 14 year old variety.

And I certainly do not regret inviting my student teacher into the mess to see the wonderfulness of it all for herself.

Moving abroad has taught me that I rarely ever regret saying yes, even when my inner self is doubtful and self conscious and screaming just say no!

Even when saying yes can get messy. 

Whether it's saying yes to a strange new food, a slightly intimidating scoot adventure, running up a new hill, being open enough to really invest in new friends or diving head first into a new sport, I've learned that more often than not, I am greatly rewarded by saying yes.

Saying yes was not a huge part of my life before moving to Taiwan.
I was so cautious.

Here, I am still me-- a homebody who loves to hole up in my apartment and read-- but I am also now an everyday explorer, runner, tennis player, open for the public to see writer, photographer and mentor teacher.

I just keep adding more and more stuff to my list because saying yes has worked out pretty well for me over the past few years.

On the other hand, I have also learned to acknowledge and accept my limitations. The very same week my student teacher was set to arrive, I was also scheduled to get six foreign exchange students. I was wracking my brain trying to sort out how to assimilate them into my class and get started on Romeo and Juliet, a rather daunting text even for an adept English speaker, when I decided: no, that was simply too much.

It was going to be one or the other: one student teacher or six foreign exchange students.

Luckily, moving abroad has also taught me how to assert myself.
And even luckier, I have found that most people are very reasonable when you just admit that something is too much. Often times, people don't realize they've put too much on your plate unless you say something-- something like: no, I can't do both-- and then they are happy to do their part to accommodate you.

This is something I never did before because I thought saying no professionally wasn't, like, allowed or something.

So, I guess what I am trying to say is that I have learned to say a lot of yeses and a few nos where they really matter, and I am pretty darn grateful for both. While I am still me, the core person I was when I arrived four years ago, I know that I am also a cooler & stronger version of that person (mostly thanks to a lot of yeses and a few nos). 

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