Monday, August 19, 2013

Teacher vs. Friend

Have you heard of Jennifer Pastiloff? She's a writer and a yoga teacher in LA. She's an excellent writer -- she writes about life, about being a better person, about a lot of different topics. I love following her articles and posts on her website and her Facebook page. (I actually used the "send to Kindle" Firefox plugin to send a ton of her old blog posts to my Kindle to read on the bus and at the gym.) She leads writing/yoga retreats around the world, and it's my dream to go to one. I just have to learn something about yoga first. :P

Anyway, sometimes she writes for a website called Positively Positive. She wrote a post today (read it here) about the difficulty in maintaining a professional "self" as someone who teaches fellow adults. Her ultimate argument is really beautiful and I recommend that you read the essay. But here, I'd like to talk about my experience with this situation.

I go into all of my classes with this idea that I'm going to keep up this image of a stoic, professional, private Danielle. I can be funny or silly with students, but I really plan to avoid talking about myself at all. I don't want to show anything personal, because I feel like that's (a) unprofessional and (b) a sign of weakness and (c), separately, selfish -- the student is paying me to practice English, and I spend a bunch of time talking? But it's mostly (b). I want my students to see me as a strong, experienced, confident, and stable woman (a professional? Here I go with that word again). I want them to think I am all of those things, even when I don't feel like I am. (I'm not sure if wearing tennis shoes every day helps with that image, but that's another blog post.)

But here's what happens, in practice: I spend 2-4 hours a week alone with someone, or with 2 people, or with a small group of people. We're in an unadorned room alone together. The activities in the book (and usually the ones that I make) always ask the students to talk about themselves and their opinions. This goes on for months -- with a couple of my students, for years. They end up sharing a lot of life experiences. More than a few students have told me (jokingly, but happily) that I double as their psychologist. I got embarrassed and insisted that they just feel more comfortable telling me personal things because I'm outside of their social circles and because their secrets feel less powerful when spoken with the lightness of a foreign language, but all of these students disagreed.

I have to admit that the changes come to my class dynamics when I start to open up a little, too. It usually happens when the student talks about something personal, especially if it's something I can really relate to. I notice that they're feeling a little vulnerable, and I want them to feel less so. I say something like, "that makes a lot of sense. I understand. I had a similar experience when [blahblahblah]." In the moment, a little red warning alarm starts going off in my head -- ::weakness alert! weakness alert!:: -- but it's contradicted by the relief on my student's face.

I also have to decide whether or not to open up when students ask me questions directly. One student loves to ask me, "What about you?" every time I ask her a question. I think it's partly because she likes to practice the expression that I taught her to replace that godforsaken "And you?", but partly because we're almost the same age and we're both twins with our sisters living far away, and our families and many life experiences are similar.

I spend every class trying to find a balance. In her essay, Jennifer Pastiloff's advice is to "always be telling the truth." I think I've got that part covered -- I don't directly lie to my students about things (except my schedule when they want to have class at an inconvenient time); I just avoid saying things about MY life. I always start out resisting. I will say things like, "that sounds normal" or "I think almost everyone feels like that" rather than "I feel like that, too." I don't want to say, "Sometimes I think I should stop drinking, too," or "I totally get you on the being away from your family thing." I have this idea that they'll take me less seriously if they know things like that about me.

But eventually, a strain develops. I'm still not sure if it's on my end (I tire of being so impersonal and feeling inhuman), or if it's on their end (they're telling me so many things about themselves and are curious to know what I'm like, too). But almost inevitably, my "professional" wall comes down. We build a rapport instead.

I'm at a point now where I am aware of these things and I'm trying to accept them:

-Being open and forthcoming is part of my personality;
-As much as I want otherwise, my students see me as a person and realize I have flaws and feelings;
-My students seem to enjoy class more when the exchange of personal information is not 100:0, but more like 70:30;      
-Maybe I need to reconsider my definition of "professional," which until now has almost been synonymous with "reserved and closed off";  
-Being a private teacher is its own thing. It's not the same as being a psychologist, or a boss, or an employee, or a teacher of children. I have to make my own path for it; and
-The more you share with people, the more you realize just how similar everyone is.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Adventures at the Consulate

Two blog posts in one week!

So yesterday, I had to trek over to the US consulate in Sao Paulo to get an asinine document for my never-ending visa process. At the 11th hour, the Policia Federal (the immigration office) has decided that I need some kind of official document with my parents' names on it. I'd heard about this possibility, so I thought I was so smart and efficient when I asked my family to send me my birth certificate. Unfortunately, I didn't consider the fact that my birth certificate would have to be certified by the Brazilian Consulate in Los Angeles, and now it's here with me and I don't have enough time (or patience) to send it back before my appointment. Oh, and normally, Brazilian marriage and união estável certificates have the bride and groom's parents' names on them, but it seems as though our lawyer guy at the cartório where we got ours messed up and forgot that part. Just bask in all that fun and logic for a bit.

Luckily (right word?), the Policia Federal said I could get a document called an "inscrição consular". You can kind of translate that as "registration at the consulate". I had to go to the US consulate and tell them my parents' names, and they'd give me an official document with my parents' names on it. Totally makes sense, right?

My early-morning bus ride to Sao Paulo put me at the metro station at 8:10am on a Friday morning. I believe this was my first time experiencing Sao Paulo morning rush hour. In short, it was horrendous and I hope to never need to do it again. I really don't understand how people do that every day and don't go postal (perhaps the Brazilian expression could be "go metro" rather than "go postal". heh heh). There was a huge crush of people trying to get onto the train cars, but each train that came through was already packed with people. It reminds me of all those horror stories you hear about Indian train systems, except I was lucky in that it was a cool morning and most everyone had just showered and was smellin' nice on their way to work. So I had to wait for 6 cars to pass before I had a chance to push myself (get pushed) into the throngs of commuters on a train car.

I tried not to get too upset: it was only a one-time thing for me, and I tried to remember where I was, à lá Rachel or Stephen Dedalus. Rush hour in Sao Paulo? Talk about being a part of something. Sao Paulo will always hold a special place in my heart, and I think that's mostly because I don't live there. 

Anyway, a bunch of transfers later, I was at the train stop closest to the consulate, very sweaty and a little worse for the wear.

It seems as though the vast majority of people who go to the US consulate are Brazilians trying to get visas to the US. In fact, there are actually 3 separate entrances that I saw: One for visa people, one for "salespeople" (I imagine this has something to do with imports and people who buy or sell things between the countries), and a tiny, obscure, unmarked gate door that looks like part of the fence. That's the door for American citizens to get in through. If you are American and you ever need to go to the consulate, don't make the mistake I made and walk alllllll the way around the giant building. Find this "door." It's easier to look for the security guard standing just inside of it.

I actually figured out where the door was because I saw a very obviously American man standing in front of it, talking to the security guard. This security guard checked the man's (and then my) passport and checked to see if our appointment confirmation print-outs were real. Then he let us in to wait.

We were the only 2 people in the American line, while the visa line for the Brazilians was set up like a cattle call. It was all complicated and color-coded, and the security guard was asking, "how many people in your family?" and then letting people in in small groups. I realized that this line would be great practice for everyone who was planning on going to Disney World (which we can imagine was just about everyone in that line. Seriously.). If only the security guard would speak to them in English and ask, "how many people in your party?" -- then they'd be really set.

While the other American and I were waiting to be let in, a mother and her two daughters got in line behind us. The teenage daughter was perfectly fluent in West Coast English and was speaking to her mother in English. The mother spoke to her in English, but was Brazilian and had a Portuguese accent. The mother also spoke to the younger daughter in English, and this toddler replied in Portuguese. At first I was irritated, because it annoys me when Brazilians (and it's always young-ish women) try to deny being Brazilians in contexts with lots of Americans.

(Side stories: Once, at the Brazilian consulate in the US, I saw a woman who was wearing a faux fur jacket and a skirt in the San Francisco winter. She was speaking to her young daughter in English, and and trying to impress this snobby air of authority upon everyone around her. Come on. No one here thinks you're American -- at least not the Americans. Plus, teach your kid your native language, duh. Another time, on a trip to the US, I met up with some of my students who had moved to California. They told me about a Brazilian woman -- also with a young daughter! -- who they saw at the mall. My students were speaking Portuguese together in the mall, and they heard the mother-daughter pair speaking Portuguese, too. They tried to catch the mother's eye and smile (hey, fellow Brazilians! Strangers in a strange land! etc), but the mother brushed passed them with a loud "EXCUSE ME" in English and sauntered off. Dude.)

Anyway, I quickly realized that this mother at the consulate was trying to do her daughter a favor -- using English with her as much as she could. I guessed that their dad was American and they were living in Brazil, mostly because of the little kid's insistence on speaking to Mommy in Portuguese. An American dad would also explain their place in the US citizen line at the consulate.

Anyway, we were finally all let in to the security area. I realized that the obnoxious needlessness of American security systems is a cultural parallel to the obnoxious needlessness of Brazil's paperwork and bureaucracy. Lots of people will defend it because they don't know any different and they don't like to question things, but if you stop and think about it, the system could be totally overhauled.

The bad part of the security clearance was that they took away my phone AND my Kindle, so I had nothing to entertain myself while I waited my turn inside. (This actually induces anxiety in me-- the idea of being forced to sit for an indeterminate amount of time with NOTHING good to distract me.) Since I had no book to read and no cell phone to fiddle with, I had to listen to the two American college girls musing over English grammar together in the waiting room. They were waiting with a Brazilian girl their age, who I presume had come with them for company. In an unbearable dialogue peppered with "like"s and open back unrounded vowels, the Americans were trying to explain English's present perfect to the Brazilian girl. The only problem was that they didn't know about the term or the concept of present perfect, so when the Brazilian girl asked, "but what's the difference between 'I ate'  and 'I have eaten'?", they replied with, "well, I mean, like, 'I ate' means like, yesterday I ate, but 'I have eaten'  means, like, I have eaten in my LIFE," with a sudden burst of authority in their tone. The Brazilian girl asked, "so is it like 'já comi' in Portuguese? Like 'I already ate'?" They got confused and went in this circle for a while, and then I couldn't stand it anymore. It was torture.

I actually raised my hand, because I'm a snob and a nerd. They looked at me, and one of the American girls smiled. She was friendly. Much friendlier than I am.
"I think can help you out," I said. "Do you want me to explain the difference?"
"Sure," the Brazilian girl said.

I gave the explanation that I gave to my students, but I was so anxious to finally be getting the truth out into the room that I spoke too fast and I think I overwhelmed them and I don't think I helped at all. :(

"Why are you here in Brazil?" the friendly American girl asked.
"Oh, my husband is Brazilian," I explained. "We live here."
"Really, WOW!" Her enthusiasm and the sparkle in her eye suggested that she had a Brazilian boyfriend who she had dreams of marrying.
"What about you?" I asked.
"Oh, we're studying abroad. I love it here!" she gushed. Brazilian boyfriend, definitely. 
 I just smiled politely. Before we could make more small talk, one of the girls got called up to the front and the conversation fizzled out.

OK so eventually it was my turn. I was speaking with the attendant in Portuguese to be polite, but then I heard her accent and switched to English. She was American, too. I told her that I needed the inscrição consular document. She asked me to write down my parents' names and she pushed a piece of paper under the glass. I went to show her my birth certificate, but she said, "no, it's OK. We don't need that. We believe you." I couldn't decide whether to bask in the relief of kind of being back in the US for an instant (where I don't need to spend so much of my time proving that I am who I say I am), or to scoff at the ridiculousness of the situation. I went with the latter and said to the attendant, "that's funny, then, that the Policia Federal thinks it's OK if I lie to you, or that I wouldn't lie to you, but they think I would lie to them directly." No response from the attendant. I guess she's trained not to engage in our bitterness and sarcasm, or maybe she was trying to help me not get in trouble over a joke. Either way, she was doing the right thing.

They went off and printed out a fancy document on cardstock with some Brazil-friendly stamps and seals saying that I really am Danielle and what my parents' names are. The attendant also returned my passport. In my passport picture, I'm 8 years younger and 10 pounds heavier, plus my hair is long and dyed black, and I have too much dark makeup on. I'm also not smiling because the passport picture person told me not to smile. The attendant looked back and forth from my passport to me.
"You're so friendly and blonde," she stated matter-of-factly. "This picture is throwing me off."
"It was my chola phase," I joked. I actually got a smile out of her. I was elated. People always tell me that I don't look like my passport picture, but almost none of the people who see my passport would understand that joke, so I sadly have to keep it to myself. I think the whole obnoxious trip was worth it, just to be able to speak English with other Americans for a while and to be able to finally make that joke.

The conclusion to this story is that I think I FINALLY have every.single.piece. of paper that I need for this godforsaken permanent residency process. If they ask me for something else, I might go postal. Or metro. Or even... policia federal on them. (Another option!) My appointment is in two weeks, and I'm supposed to get my RNE (my ID number) then. Wish me luck!


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sedative Babble

Yay, a blog post!

On Friday, I had to have surgery on my arm again, this time to remove the metal plate. The bone healed nicely and the plate was too big for me, so it was better to get it out.

For the first surgery, I was put under general anesthesia, so I was asleep and only managed to say a couple of silly things at the end. This time, the anesthesiologists put a local anesthesia in my arm and then gave me a sedative. Ah, sedatives. This was the first and hopefully last time I'll ever need one, because I embarrassed myself. This sedative left me in a half-awake, half-dreaming loopy stupor during which I said everything that came to mind. Unfortunately, Alexandre wasn't allowed in during this surgery. Maybe he would've told me to just stop talking, to avoid saying all of this nonsense (and these are just the things I remember):

"You know, in the last surgery, the doctors said I kept speaking to them in English. Like, they'd ask me if I was in pain, and I'd say, "only a little bit". So I might do that to you."

"Can you take this thing out of my nose?" [It was the oxygen tubes]
"How about now?"
"And now?"
"This thing in my nose is really bothering me. Can you take it out?"

At one point, someone asked me what my job was.
"I'm an English teacher. But usually I'm much smarter than this, than I am right now. I swear."
One of them asked me if I could be his teacher. I said, "sure, but if you call me, I probably won't remember you." At the time, I thought he was serious, but I think now they were just asking me random questions to see what I would say.

"Hey. You guys are orthopedic surgeons. You know, I have a pinky toe that is permanently broken and bends at a 90-degree angle. You should look at it."
As soon as the surgery finished, I insisted that the doctor look at it. He humored me, told me the tendon was probably torn or something.

At one point, some nurse came in and was fiddling with my gown and my blankets. She told me what she was doing, but I don't remember now. I didn't have any clothes on, so I shouted "DON'T LOOK!" to all the male doctors. Classy.

"I can't feel my arm. I can hear you guys over there talking about it and doing things but I can't feel it. That's so crazy. Anesthesia is crazy."

"You know, I want to thank you all for your years of service and study. I know it's so much work and time for you guys to become doctors. Thanks for doing that so you can help people. You guys are amazing."

So it was basically like being drunk except I didn't cry about anything, so that's good. I don't think I said anything too embarrassing or incriminating. I was just a chatty kathy.

I'm gonna try to write more in the blog, I swear. I think of things to write and then I think that people probably wouldn't care about reading it. I've been so unmotivated.
But I hope you enjoyed my surgical babble.
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