Life between the ivory tower and a cardboard box

Education

I am a Third Culture Kid: My Top 10 Pet Peeves (Part 1)

Argh!Let’s not lie. Everybody has a secret list of things that annoy the hell out of them, many of which are related to the things they are passionate about. Some of my book-worm friends hate it when people fold the corners of the pages. Other friends hate it when fellow movie-goers feel the need to give running commentary while the film is playing. I personally do not enjoy getting CDs that don’t have the clear strip on the side. They’re petty and illogical, but they’re there. They don’t necessarily make us bad people, but they make up the character and idiosyncrasies of every individual.

Naturally, I have pet peeves that are related to my experiences as a TCK. Because all of them are deeply connected to the experience of travel and living in multiple places, I realize that they come in danger of sounding snobby and elitist, especially to those who have not had as much experience with traveling. However, I’m not here to make some ground-breaking insight or social analysis. I may even be guilty of committing some of these myself. I just write to talk about my perspective for others to learn about. If it makes you re-examine some of your previous beliefs and knowledge, then more power to you. If not, here’s hoping you get a good laugh out of it.

And without further ado, here are my Top 10 TCK-Related Pet Peeves.

  1. Mispronunciation. I find it absolutely jarring when I hear someone mispronounce a word that I know. This applies to both native-speakers and non-native speakers who try to inject foreign words in their vocabulary. I can’t emphasize enough the number of times I felt like driving a pencil through my eye every time I heard President George W. Bush or my high school Theory of Knowledge teacher say “nuke-you-ler” in public. Where did that extra syllable come from? Similarly, I get a sudden fit of rashes when I hear people here in the Philippines mispronounce commonly used English words like “category” (kah-TEH-go-REE) or when my principal in first grade tried to tell us that you can also say it “Wed-NES-day”. My inner Anthro major tries to remind me that pronunciation is culturally relative, just like how I used to say “CON-tribute” and “DIS-tribute” before I moved to the U.S. and changed it to “con-TRI-bute” and “dis-TRI-bute”. I will try to remember that the next time I feel like cutting a bitch when I hear someone say “EYE-raq”.
    • Does not apply to: People genuinely trying to learn another language.
  2. When entire continents are one big country. I have lost count of the number of people I met who would nonchalantly describe their overseas adventures “in Africa”, “in Central America”, or “in Europe”. As if that really tells me anything. In case no one got the memo, each of those places have many countries, with their diverse set of languages, traditions, and histories. Lumping them all together by referring to their continents or regions gives others the impression that all of its countries are exactly the same and indiscernible. Anyone who really made the most of their experience abroad and didn’t spend all of it with the expat community or getting drunk the entire time will probably have an easier time telling India and Thailand apart.
  3. Stupid stereotypes. I’m not just talking about racism, although that is a big one, too. I’m talking about the preconceived notions people project about a place based on inflated representations from the media — things like believing that everyone in the Caribbean is a pot-smoking, reggae-listening, Jah-worshipping, dreadlock-sporting rasta, or that everyone in the Middle East is an Islamic extremist who hates the U.S. The worst part is when people sincerely ask me how I could live in or have friends from such places. “Gosh, Erin,” they would say, “are your Black friends gangsters?” Or, “Wow, the Caribbean!” they would exclaim, “Did you leave by the beach? Were you friends with those rasta dudes? Yah, mon, I love Bob Marley!” And so on. I would say something about how people are just people and do not serve as caricatures of the cultures you think they represent. But that would be too much work.
  4. “Why do you speak English so well?” This is an idiotic question, usually asked by native English speakers in places where English is the national language. People who think about posing this question might as well ask, “Why do you use your brain?” Basically, you lay bare your assumption that anyone who appears to be a foreigner can’t be a native English speaker or appear competent when in foreign situations. Asking me this question is an insult to my intelligence and is an annoyance considering I’ve spoken English my entire life. Don’t ever think about asking this question to anyone, or I will hunt you down and hurt you.
    • Does not apply to: Admission officers who want to know why you want to waiver your TOEFL requirement. Because the TOEFL is an expensive waste of time.
  5. “Do you know my friend?” It’s amazing how, despite the rapidly rising global population, people still think that you know his or her friend Jack just because you come from or live in the same country. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan of the idea that everyone in the world is somehow connected and have found some ridiculous connections between all the people I have ever known growing up. But I encourage everyone to drop the idea that the rest of the world lives in these large, communal villages where everybody knows each other.
    • Does not apply to: Small towns. Or if you are really powerful and important and knows a lot of people.

    (to be continued)

    Read I am a Third Culture Kid: Being “The Foreigner”


I’ve Made My Bed, I’ll Lie In It

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The other day, I was sitting with my mom at lunch, complaining as usual about how hard it’s been to find a job in Metro Manila. Usually, she plays the good mom by telling me that I will eventually find something, and that these things take time. However, that day, she decided to keep it real.

“You know why you can’t find anything?” she asked me. “It’s because of your course. You should have taken something practical. How do you expect to take care of yourself?”

I replied by mumbling something about how I’m not good at anything “practical.” It’s true. I don’t want to be a nurse and I don’t want to take business or computer science. In fact, my Economics courses in college were the some of the biggest reasons why my GPA was less than stellar.

“Well, it’s true,” my mom continued. “You need to take something more in demand if you want to live. You have to eat, you know.”

The rest of the meal was spent by me brooding quietly some more about education and skill sets and experience.

I have no problem admitting that my mom and others like her have a point. College does play an enormous part in shaping your skills for a career. It therefore helps your prospects much more if what you learned in college tends to be something more employers are looking for. In the Philippines, this includes nursing, teaching, IT,and business. Moreover, you have a higher chance of getting even the most menial of positions if your degree matches their qualifications or even the nature of the organization. You can’t even be an administrative assistant for an engineering firm without an Accountancy or Engineering degree. Part of it has to do with high competition, while another part has to do with the way things are done here. Unlike in the United States, where there is plenty of room for flexibility, when you declare a course in university here in the Philippines, you make a commitment to be in that field for life. As it goes, since I have a degree in Anthropology, I must be an anthropologist.

It also goes that friends and family here were duly perplexed upon finding out I wanted to major in Anthropology.

“Anthropology?” they asked. “What’s that?”

“It’s the study of people and cultural and social behavior,” was my short answer.

“Like an archaeologist? Do you want to dig up bones?”

“No, I don’t want to dig up bones. I’m more interested in cultural anthropology.”

“What? Where’s the money in that?”

And so on. People have given me much less grief about it and even humor me when I talk about it in casual conversation. On the other hand, I try to make myself sound more legitimate by telling people that my degree is in Anthropology and Global Development Studies. Never mind that GDS was just a concentration and not a full blown major. Never mind that GDS was really just a big mix of Anthro, Political Science, Econ, and some other stuff, leaving me unspecialized in anything. Nonetheless, that strategy seemed to give me a little more street cred, especially with employers.

In Manila, you definitely have more freedom in terms of what degree you pursue, if you are willing to start your career at a call center. All call centers here ask for is English fluency. That’s it. Everything else, from the script, phone etiquette, product overview, and even a contrived American accent and working knowledge of U.S. culture, is given to you during the compulsory training period. These days, you don’t even need a Bachelor’s degree anymore, since the industry is growing too fast to match the number of competent English speakers who want to work at a call center. While the money is quite tempting, I am done with call centers. I worked at a call center in Pasig one summer and did Phonathon all through college. I also did not spend five years building myself up in the U.S. only to come back to the Philippines to work at a call center. I think it’s time to move on from the phones.

So where does this leave me? I am not sure. It is pretty common knowledge that just having a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology isn’t going to bring you very many places. I learned this a while ago. I also realized that the country that readily sends its people to work as maids and janitors in other countries would not really understand what an Anthro degree really is. So, I’ve been aiming for numerous NGOs, teaching/training positions, and even an alumni coordinator position. So far, no success. I know the job search process takes a while, and I haven’t stopped looking, but it has been so easy for me to lose my resolve very quickly. I don’t like being poor, I hate having no routine, and, honestly, I don’t like comparing myself to other people and feeling like I am light years behind my peers. In any case, I will keep looking.

The truth is, I don’t really mind it too much. I know I made my own bed. I know my life is going to suck for a while. But I would still rather be where I am now than be in a position where I’m making much more money doing something that I’m bad at or bores me. The truth is, Anthro really does interest me, and I know that there is a way I can make it work later on in life.

If the going gets really tough, though . . . well, as we liberal arts majors always say, “There’s always grad school.”